Jon Couternay Grimwood is a well known name in the science fiction field, though before now he had never given voice to a fantasy story. I’ll admit, The Fallen Blade was the first of Grimwood’s books I’ve read and the experience has deeply impressed me. Grimwood offers up a personal, well told story that incorporates familiar fantastical elements and blends them with a rich historical background, compelling characters and intrigue. The novel is not without fault - indeed the slow start, if nothing else, sees to that - but it is an enjoyable read and a solid start to the Assassini Trilogy.
Venice is at the height of its power. In theory, Duke Marco commands. But Marco s a simpleton, so his aunt and uncle rule in his stead. Within the Serene Republic, their word is law, but for all their influence, Venice’s fate still lies in other hands...
Lady Giulietta is the Duke’s cousin. She enjoys greater privilege than many can even dream of, but her status will demand a terrible price.
Atilo Il Mauros is head of the Assassini, the shadow army that enforces Venice’s will - both at home and abroad.
Prince Leopold is the bastard son of the German Emperor and the leader of the krieghund - the only force in Venice more feared that Atilo’s assassins.
And then there is Atilo’s angel-faced apprentice. Only a boy, Tycho is already stronger and faster than any man has a right to be. He can see in the dark, but sunlight burns him. It is said that he drinks blood.
The foremost thing I want to mention about The Fallen Blade is the quality of the setting and atmosphere that Grimwood has set out in the novel. Admittedly, Grimwood did not ‘create’ Venice, but choosing it as the canvas on which to paint his story was a good one. To add to that is the disconcerting atmosphere he instills on the events of the book, a result of garishly crude descriptions coupled with the innate ‘vibe’ of Venice. Throw in a sophisticated plot, in-depth exploration of characters and voilà: you have a great historical fantasy.
The structure of the novel too is to be commended. The non-chronological story telling and the very quick, alternating view points both reflect the confused and impulsive nature of the book’s main character, Tycho, and helps to muddle even more the intrigue. The flashbacks give precious insights into the mystery of Tycho’s origins. The variety of viewpoints, meanwhile, keeps the story varied.
Gimwood’s choice in abnormal elements is of great consequence to the strength of the book. Vampires seem to be popular creatures to have in historically-based fantasies. Jasper Kent’s Danilov Quintet, as another recent example of historical vampires, comes to mind. It is true that their mythology lends itself well to that type of setting. Though Grimwood never outright calls his creature a ‘vampire’ their similitudes are noticeable. He does well in integrating this and other fantastical elements into the plot in a way that makes sense and is accompanied from the expected fear and confusion from the characters.
I do, however, have a few complaints to make. The book, as I mentioned before, is painfully slow to start. Despite the often-changing view point - which in the beginning only confuses the reader - the book, for its first 100 + pages drags on without care for presenting the reader with a unified storyline to grab on to. Eventually, though the pace never really picks up other than during action sequences, the cloud of confusion lifts as characters become better-known and plot beings to appear in the dissipating fog of the cloud.
Not a perfect book, then, but still a more than decent one. With The Fallen Blade Jon Courtenay Grimwood proves himself capable of holding his own in the fantasy scene. Once past the ‘slow-hump’ the book unfolds with exquisite exposition and great care to characters and plot. The continuation of the story begun in The Fallen Blade screams to be read, as it will be in the second act of the Assassini Trilogy, The Outcast Blade. This is a book that would suit well lovers of history and paranormal creatures, though strength and depth of the characters make it book that can attract many others.
My Rating: 4 out of 5
Reading Age: 16 and up
Jon Courtenay Grimwood's Website: http://www.j-cg.co.uk/
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