Tower of the King's Daughter - Chaz Brenchley

Reviewed for Usenet (or see Google archive).

Tower of the King's Daughter
The First Book of Outremer
Chaz Brenchley
Orbit paperback
ISBN: 1857236920 (Amazon link)
(Book one of three)

I did it again. I succumbed to a Fat Fantasy. With the dread words 'epic fantasy' on the back no less. I've had a very busy month, I wanted something 'easy' and I've been reading out of the genre lately (historical fiction: Lindsey Davis, Steven Saylor, Jose Carlos Samoza).

Amazon's preference engines keep popping this novel in the top 10, and as I've seen some decent reviews I though I'd give it a go. It's not bad. It's not brilliant, but it's not bad.

The author apparently is known for horror fiction, this is the first book I've read by him. It's a fantasy of the mostly-historical variety set in Outremer. If you like your history this should ring some bells, and if you don't then get immediately to a bookshop and pick up anything by John Julius Norwich - the most fun way to learn about the crusades.

In this very thinly disguised east we have the Brothers, a religious monastic order occuping an immense and ancient stronghold. In the centre stands the tower of the king's daughter, no doors, no windows, old. We're following our hero, Marron, as he joins the order, and has exciting adventures. (Well, actually he doesn't. Mostly he acts as a plot anchor.) The strict monastic rule of the brothers doesn't apply to the Knights of the Society of Ransom, and it is to one of the these knights that young Marron soon finds himself squire.

We have the obligatory plucky heroine too, she is Julianne, daughter to the King's Shadow, a chancellor of sorts. She is on her way to get married. She meets up with her plucky sidekick, Elisande, a young women who has been living with the desert tribes - the Sharai - and who has her own reasons to follow Julianne to the stronghold. Chuck in a mysterious troubadour and we're all set. Sounds cliched doesn't it?

In some ways it is. However, the setting is evoked well, with the landscape nicely drawn, and the characters mostly sympathetic. It's decently written, but hardly lyrical. It trots along at a good pace, and there is plenty of action along the way. Sadly, not much happens in the end - there are mysterious Djinni, plenty of hints about powerful magic, and some moments of good worldbuilding, but somehow it all falls flat. It felt like I was reading the middle book in places, lots of setup, little payoff.

The tag-line of the back says, "Duty is owed. Loyalty is earned. Allegiance is won. Betrayal is universal" and in some ways it seems the book is about betrayal, with each character having either a dark secret or divided loyalties. However, the problem is that some of the plotting is, well, a bit dumb. The series is off to a good start, with our hero Marron being a likable young man tormented by the acts he's commited in the name of the church (hint: blood, razing villages, children). Sadly, he then turns into a bumbling fool, driving the plot by his inability to think much.

Pity. This is a decent, above-average fantasy, set in a potentially interesting land but rather let down by a wandering plot with a bit of a deus ex machina ending that reads more like the start of book two. 7/10

The Post-script that I'm not sure whether to include:
Those that are uncomfortable with sexual material might also have some issues, I didn't mind the gay relationships but felt a bit uneasy at the ages of the protagonists. Which would have been fine had it driven the plot, but it didn't. So although this might be a spoiler I can't see how it matters... and it's plenty obvious anyway.

Posted: Mon - February 17, 2003 at 03:37 PM