Nothing like the call of duty to ruin a good party. Or the cold slap of reality.
The carousing of squire Brandywine is cut short by rumours of war. The rumours are just that, though, stories covering a darker threat and poor young Brandywine falls out of his cups and into a quest that will make him the knight no one quite believes he can be. Along the way, he will form an odd alliance with the loathly lady.
Brandywine’s journey is not straightforward, though the novel would have been just as entertaining if it was. He’s not that likeable a fellow in the beginning. Smart, obviously. He takes his talents for granted, however, and is arrogant in his naiveté. In other words, he has a lot to learn. One of the pleasures of this book is his growth. Brandywine becomes more than likeable, he adopts all the notions of chivalry and becomes properly heroic but it will take more than a hero to unravel the series of riddles and puzzles.
‘The Loathly Lady’ is dark fantasy, meaning there is plenty of blood and sex between the covers. (Not usually on the same page.) The story is adult in nature, though Brandywine is only seventeen. The choices he has to make are difficult, the consequences sometimes dire. The dragons are fearsome, cunning and not easily vanquished. The price of honour is high and the definition between the different kingdoms is delightfully varied, as is the idea of chivalry.
It’s the twists and turns that pull the reader along, however. Every time Brandywine vanquishes a foe, he discovers his quest is not over. It’s like climbing a hill only to find another waiting on the other side and the path up isn’t immediately visible. As the next hill beckons, so does the next quest, for characters and reader alike.
Once again, John Lawson has written an immersive fantasy with widely varied characters. The titular character, the loathly lady, well represents the archetype, though Lawson has crafted his own story for her. I had a hard time putting ‘The Loathly Lady’ aside and the last hundred pages disappeared in a blur. The ending is almost unexpected as every time the quest seems done, the next wrinkle presents itself. None of the twists (wrinkles, hills) seem contrived, however. The clues are all there for the more perceptive reader.
As a final note, I’d like to mention that as always, Dragonwell has produced a good looking book. Their attention to detail with the typography and small graphics might seem a small thing, but it really does add something to the experience of reading.
I look forward to the next Witch Ember tale.
(pub: Dragonwell Publishing. 404 page paperback. Price: $17.95 (US). Ebook: $ 6.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-94007-603-4)