Wednesday, June 18, 2014

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The first book in this series of hard fantasy novels (no magic, elves, dragons, etc.), The Pirates of Alnari, was an excellent debut effort on the part author Dan Eldredge. A long-time fan of fantasy fiction as well as the maritime novels of Patrick O'Brien, Eldredge's first book was a blend of swashbuckling, seafaring adventure with the kind of cutthroat political intrigue that fans of George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series have come to enjoy. There was also a buffet-sized portion of grim, brutal violence, displaying the author's keen understanding of medieval hand-to-hand combat.

Now, Eldredge has just released the second book in the series, The Grand Masquerade, and while there are a few seafaring chapters, the bulk of the story takes place on land. This story is, if anything, even more reminiscent of GRRM's storytelling, but in all the ways in which GRRM's books make for great, highly engaging reads. An assassination during a masquerade ball, coupled with the fallout from the events of the first book, results in nobles and generals maneuvering against each other for the fate of four nations. Knights charge home with lances couched and blades held high, as warships hurl deadly incendiaries and flights of arrows at each other in massive fleet actions ending the lives of thousands. War on a grand scale is always difficult to get right, but in this book, Eldredge has done an excellent job of making the narrative thrilling and fast-paced, but at the same time, delivered with great attention to detail.

Of course, trapped between the crushing jaws of nation-states locked in mortal combat, protagonists Martyn, Arycke, and Starissa try to stay alive and one step ahead of their foes, no mean feat in a world where no good deed goes unpunished, and death can come at any time, in any form, and from any direction. A number of major and minor characters get ground into mince-meat by the wheels of war and politics during this novel, and I found myself turning the pages as quickly as I could during the most intense moments, hoping that characters I enjoyed would make it through a particularly perilous scene. More often than hopes were dashed to bits, like a skull shattered by a warhammer.

If you like grim, hard-hitting fantasy fiction that doesn't need to rely on elves, dragons, and fireballs to get the job done, I think you'll really enjoy The Grand Masquerade. Although it can be read on its own, you're better off reading The Pirates of Alnari first, as the events of the first book lead directly into the second, and if you're not up to speed, it might be a little overwhelming.


Charles Gramlich said...

I like the term hard fantasy. I always liked my sword and sorcery with the emphasis on swords and very little sorcery.

FreeLiverFree said...

Of course, The Lord of the Rings had very little spell casting in it. That is one of the differences between him and his imitators.

It did have plenty of elves, dwarves, et cetera, of course.

Dan Eldredge said...

When I was in the planning stages of writing The Pirates of Alnari, I had thought of including magic, but two things motivated me not to:

1. I didn't want to have to invent yet *another* magic system...

2. I wanted my characters to solve their own problems, rather than let their magical abilities solve things for them.

Chris said...

I read Pirates and really liked it. I will definitely be reading this one as well.

sandhya said...

The two novels was very interesting and well written by an author