The Lascar’s Dagger (The Forsaken Lands book 1) by Glenda Larke (book review).

May 2, 2014 | By | Reply More

Necessity is the mother of invention. As the post-war UK experienced a paper shortage in the early 1950s ‘Lord Of The Rings’ was broken up into three books. The unusual move created a viable business model for serialisation in publishing, especially in SF and fantasy, that hadn’t been seen since the end of the 19th century. I mention this because Glenda Larke’s ‘The Lascar’s Dagger’ is ‘Book One of The Forsaken Lands’. It is a novel, but not a complete story. Rather like Joe Abercrombie’s ‘The Blade Itself’, the novel ends with the promise of some real adventuring in the next book. Thankfully, the world creation in ‘The Lascar’s Dagger’ has enough to satisfy the ardent fantasy fan.

LascarsDagger

Lowmeer and Ardrone are neighbouring states in the Va-Cherished lands. Lowmeer is grey and austere. Ardrone more verdant and cosmopolitan. Both states depend on trade by sea for their commerce. The spice trade with the Va-Forsaken lands generates great wealth and therefore piracy is rife on the high seas. Both states are unified by their worship of Va and their priests, Witans, headed up by the Pontifrect. Our hero is Witan Saker Rampion who, as is handily pointed out on the front cover, is a ‘PRIEST. SCHOLAR. SPY’. Yes, Rampion is the sort of priest who can fence, break into buildings, retort wittily and is a hit with the ladies. He is James Bond, albeit younger and with a conscience. He naturally has a spiky relationship with the Pontifrect, who reprimands him in a way straight out of M’s office.

Saker is despatched to provide spiritual guidance to Princess Mathilda and Prince Ryce of Ardrone. Both young, selfish and imperious, the Pontifrect hopes that Saker will be able to point the teenagers in the right direction. However both Ardrone and Lowmeer face other problems, a disease called the Horned Death is breaking-out. People develop horns and go insane. Rather like the Devil, A’Va, himself. When Saker finds himself the new owner of a dagger belonging to a Lascar from the Va-forasken lands, he realises there are other forces at work, not least of all the enchanted dagger itself.

What follows is a novel of two key strands, the story of Saker Rampion and the story of Princess Mathilda and her lady-in-waiting, Sorrel. At different points in the book, one story is ‘further ahead’ in guessing what evil machinations have been put in motion than the other strand. While Larke largely weaves these together well, it does mean that when the characters reconnect there’s quite a bit of catching-up to do. Rampion is a likeable hero, even if you want to slap him sometimes, and the contrast of him with the assorted characters of court is an enjoyable one. Sorrel is the novel’s other key character and Larke writes her best of all. Angry yet understanding, loyal yet independent, Sorrel becomes the character you want to succeed.

The book’s other major high-point is the evocation of the ports and docks of Lowmeer and Ardrone. Larke seems more at home in her descriptions of the harbourside towns and ships than in the castles her characters inhabit. There is a pungent, palpable quality to the writing that made me wish I was reading the novel by the sea, watching the ships move in and out of port.

How fantastical is the novel? It seems to be set in an equivalent of the sixteenth or seventeenth century and magic is a recognised gift. However, the use of magic is subtle. Strange creatures, especially exotic birds, are hinted at, but there are no ferocious monsters to be vanquished (in this part anyway). One wonders if you might have set the novel in Elizabethan or Jacobean England and been able to explore the story in a similar manner. Larke, after all, uses the old trick of giving characters titles now lost to history. ‘Witan’ was the title of an Anglo-Saxon group created to advise the king. However, the Va-created world is a competent and believable one and, for that, the book is worth taking a look at.

I enjoyed a lot of moments in ‘The Lascar’s Dagger’, but felt a little underwhelmed by it. I am not as eager for Book Two as I perhaps should be. I could happily spend more time adventuring with Saker Rampion, I’m just not sure that I would actively seek it out. One hopes that in Book Two the stakes will be somewhat raised and you will care whether the ‘PRIEST, SCHOLAR, SPY’ and his friends undertakes new challenges. Right now I’m 50-50.

John Rivers

April 2014

(pub: Orbit. 464 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-356-50272-4)

check out websites: www.orbitbooks.net and www.glendalarke.com

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Category: Books, Fantasy

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