on 3 November 2013
I've blown hot and cold with Mark Charan Newton's books over the last couple of years. Nights of Viljamur was fantastic and augured well for a new fantasy series but the follow up, City of Ruin, I found so bitterly disappointing that I largely ignored the next two in the series, although coming to them late - and probably with a less than open mind - I confess I enjoyed them a lot more. Anyway, when Drakenfeld turned up I did sniff at it a bit suspiciously not least because it smacked of historical fiction, something I struggle with at the best of times, but also because I wasn't sure which Newton had written it. Rest assured however that this is the immensely talented Newton that writes good books, and I was well pleased.
Set in a world very much influenced by Ancient Rome, the eponymous Drakenfeld is a rising star of the Sun Chamber, a law enforcement body whose jurisdiction covers the entire Vispasian Union and all monarchies and lands therein. Upon receiving news of the death of his father, Drakenfeld returns to his home city of Tryum to lay him to rest and put his affairs in order. It soon becomes apparent, however, that his father - himself a once prominent member of the Sun Chamber and a force to be reckoned with, let alone lived up to - was living a complex lie, and circumstances surrounding his death are not as straightforward as they at first seem. To add to this mystery, a member of the royal family is murdered during a big party and, as the only Sun Chamber official around, it falls to Drakenfeld to investigate the crime. With all eyes upon him and his own life seemingly at risk from all quarters, Drakenfeld's investigation lead him to the heart of power in Tryum where the truth could upset the delicate balance of the whole continent.
While ostensibly a simple locked-room mystery, Drakenfeld has a lot more going for it than would seem on the surface. Eschewing the mindless violence and protracted slaughter of many of his contemporaries (and don't get me wrong I love a bit of mindless violence and protracted slaughter) it's a thoroughly, charmingly, old-fashioned type of detective mystery where the investigation starts at the crime scene rather than the crime. More Miss Marple than Dirty Harry, what we do get is Drakenfeld, wondering at the depths to which his fellow men will stoop, while still viewing things dispassionately and with the calm, level-headed viewpoint of the professional but, as far as possible, leaving the wet-work to those less bothered by it.
As I would expect from Newton the city of Tryum is beautifully realised encompassing slums and markets, palaces and parks, and while Drakenfeld travels through much of it as the story unfolds it never feels like it's overwhelming the the investigation, although it's a world that bears further exploration. The man himself has a couple of neat 'ticks' that threaten to undermine his entire position within the Sun Chamber and thoroughly hamper his work to boot, but he has friends and relies on them, not least his companion Leana, and all told the whole cast is nicely drawn and reasonably well rounded.
It's not a breakneck ride either, in keeping with the quiet, calm of the main character the book moves at a more considered pace, unravelling the clues slowly and giving the plot time to breathe, and even if you're one of those folks who have the plot figured out and the outcome sewn up halfway through, it will still be enormous fun watching the characters get there themselves.
Drakenfeld is a solid murder mystery novel that paves the way for numerous further investigations to come and shows signs that as the characters develop and grow it will only get better and better. Comparisons to CJ Samsom, Ellis Peters, Lindsey Davis et al are easy to make and if you're looking for something of a change to your normal fantasy diet then you won't be disappointed with Drakenfeld.
on 10 October 2013
Drakenfeld is a nice easy-going read - it's not the sort of book to grab you by the lapels and drag you on a fast-paced rollercoaster ride, it's more like the friendly arm around your shoulder, guiding you through the twists and turns of the narrative. I'm not by any means suggesting that Drakenfeld is slow-paced, I think it's about right, picking up speed at all the right times and sucking you in to the point that the pages turn quickly and easily.
I thought the main stumbling block for me here would be that Drakenfeld is written in the first person, which is definitely not my preference. This didn't spoil my enjoyment of the book in the slightest, and the style worked well here with the story we're following, allowing a natural access to the thought processes of our protagonist as he tries to solve an apparently impossible crime.
The crime itself is a classic murder mystery but it's the `who' and the `why' that provide more intrigue than the `how' we spend a fair amount of time puzzling over. When that little chestnut is cracked it's almost a little disappointing in its simplicity, but the other two aspects make up for it, and the cleverness of a second major death is the icing on the cake. There's plenty of room for making your own assumptions, but I did find it a little odd how one key player I suspected almost from the start was never even suggested as a potential suspect in Lucan Drakenfeld's investigation. Perhaps I missed something there, or perhaps it was just my suspicious mind trying to beat Drakenfeld to solving the murder.
The characters and the world they're in are as well fleshed out as the story they're a part of. We're shown the world when we need to see it, allowing it to grow and develop well as we become more deeply engrossed in the story. Newton draws on classical Roman times for inspiration and even to someone who isn't well versed in the era, it's influence is apparent in the world we're shown here. Filling this world is a cast that is likeable, varied and for the most part three-dimensional, although I felt there could have been more emotional response from our main character following certain events. If that's my only real criticism though, I don't think I can complain too much.
Overall, Drakenfeld was a very enjoyable read, with a clever plot and intrigue that builds as the pages turn. New twists are added just as you start to feel comfortable with where the story is going, easily keeping your attention until the final page. If the follow up books are to be as good as Drakenfeld is, Mark Charan Newton will have to pull out some very clever storytelling. On this showing, I'd say he has the ability to manage it too.
on 6 November 2013
Mark Charan Newton brings us a new series with new characters in a new setting.
After receiving news of his father's death Sun Chamber Officer Lucan Drakenfeld is recalled home to the ancient city of Tryum and is rapidly embroiled in a mystifying case. The King's sister has been found brutally murdered - her beaten and bloody body discovered in a locked temple.
Lucan Drakenfeld is a very interesting character indeed; he's a cunning and determined investigator. The book is written in the first person, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. For me it worked and the more I read about Drakenfeld and his motivations the more I wanted to know about the world they inhabit. The order of Sun Chamber which Drakenfeld is a part of is very enigmatic, almost secret and whenever it's mentioned it instantly commands respect.
The setting of the book is a city called Tryum which takes its influences from Rome and Greece albeit in a very subtle way and not overtly obvious.
The lock room mystery was interesting, but gladly wasn't the entire focus of the book, just very cleverly put together in its simplicity once the solution is revealed. It certainly makes you think and question what you know as Drakenfeld's investigation unfolds. Drakenfeld has his work cut out for him trying to separate superstition from certainty.
As the plot steadily unfolds we learn more about Drakenfeld and the struggles he faces, in the shadow of his more famous father, even in death. Drakenfeld's determination to find the killer quickly makes him a target as the underworld gangs of Tryum focus on this new threat to their power. The secondary characters especially Leana and Senator Veron are well formed and the author gives them time to grow in the world they inhabit.
Drakenfeld is very readable, everything you want in a book. The characters are all engaging and develop as the story unfolds. The actions of Drakenfeld, Leana and Senator Veron will have consequences in future books. This is a deep and interesting story that cleverly combines crime and fantasy.
This is one of my top reads of 2013 and I highly recommended it. Now the only downside is we have to wait 12 months for the next one.
on 4 July 2014
When a fantasy novel is announced as a murder mystery set in a secondary world inspired by Ancient Rome *BOOM* I'm done and sold on reading said novel, especially if it's written by an author whose work I've enjoyed before. Super sold on the book, I bought a signed copy at WFC and then, inexplicably, crickets. The book got waylaid by review copies and while I kept eyeing it, reading kept being put on the back-burner. The paperback release gave me the perfect excuse to finally read it. And I'm glad I did. I knew I enjoyed Mark Charan Newton's writing, having read Nights of Villjamur and his short story in The Lowest Heaven, but Drakenfeld has made me kick myself for not reading City of Ruins, which is on my shelf, and his other Legends of the Red Sun books before. A situation which I'll have to remedy sooner rather than later.
Drakenfeld is set in a Rome-inspired world, where the Royal Vispasian Union ensure peace and prosperity for its constituent monarchies. The world is familiar enough to allow easy entry, yet different enough to make it truly a secondary world fantasy. I love the ambiguity of some of the staple elements of fantasy worlds. There are many different gods and religion is important, but the priestly powers seem mundane, not god-given. There is mention of magic and witchcraft and the populace firmly believes in curses and augury available on most street corners. Yet there is no firm proof and due to Lucan's rational and logical outlook on the wold, it's never quite clear whether they are fake or whether Lucan is just too much of a sceptic to believe in them.
The narrator of the novel is the eponymous Lucan Drakenfeld. He's an interesting character, the son who followed in his father's footsteps, yet has been estranged from him for years. Like his father, he's an agent of the Sun Chamber, a body of law enforcement that functions across the entire Vispasian Union and is integral to keeping the peace between its member states. This makes him not only a character with an interesting profession, but also one who has travelled the continent and as such brings something of an outsider's view to the happenings in Tryum, despite having been born and raised there. I liked his thoughtful and peaceful nature-- Drakenfeld abhors killing though he admits there is a time and place for it. He's also somewhat prudish and arrogant, yet at the same time he sees those of the lower classes not as chattel or lesser beings, but as people in a more unfortunate position than himself and worthy of respect. He's a complicated man, our Lucan Drakenfeld.
What makes his life even more complicated is the fact that he suffers from what we'd call epilepsy. His episodes are often preceded by specific smells or flashes of light, a phenomenon that is commonly known as aura. It's interesting to see how these seizures influence Lucan's functioning. There is a taboo on them and he tries to keep them hidden as much as he can. The only one who knows all about them is his closest companion, confidante, and bodyguard Leana. On the one hand he seems to consider his seizures a punishment of the gods as he prays to his goddess Polla to help him vanquish them, yet at the same time he and Leana seem aware it's a medical condition and he even successfully consults with an apothecary for a remedy to at least assuage the number of seizures that plague him.
There are several important supporting characters in the book, but the most important are Leana, Senator Veron, and Lucan's former lover Titiana. Leana is a fascinating character. She's a woman of colour posted to a city where people often look down at people of colour, yet she holds her head high, defying their prejudice and proving herself superior in spirit and skill to all of them. Despite what we learn of her - she's from Atrewe, she's the sole survivor of her people who were massacred, she was married, she's a brilliant warrior, and she's fiercely loyal to Lucan - there is a sense that her story is yet largely untold and I look forward to learning more about her in future Drakenfeld books. One of the most entertaining characters in the book was Senator Veron, an old friend of Lucan's late father, who takes him under his wing when he returns to Tryum. Veron is your quintessential hedonist; he drinks, he feasts, he sleeps around, he gambles. Yet despite all this I really liked him and his hedonism seems in part a front as Lucan notices his mask slipping a number of times and sees a far different, more serious man underneath. Titiana is an interesting character as a foil for Lucan. She uncovers some of his past and reveals to the reader some of what has made him into the man he is now.
The mystery in the book is a classic locked-room one and I found the way Newton structured his mystery very solid. I really enjoyed the sense of flusterment and desperation that overtakes Lucan about halfway through his investigation, when he's running out of leads and facing increasing pressure from the king to solve his sister's murder. Yet he manages to pull his chestnuts out of the fire and to do so without a deus-ex-machina intervention, but through old-fashioned legwork and deduction. With Leana to protect and assist him, Lucan makes his way through the city or Tryum and the labyrinthine twists of the murder plot in a very satisfying manner. I won't go into the details any further, so as not to spoil anything, but trust me the resolution of this mystery is surprising and interesting.
With Drakenfeld Newton moves in a very different direction than his previous series, but the world and characters he creates are instantly compelling and very entertaining. I loved the details Newton inserted into his world building, such as the graffiti everywhere and the political structures not just of Tryum, but of the Vispasian Union over all. Drakenfeld is a wonderful start to the series and I can't wait to read Lucan and Leana's next adventure later this year in Retribution. If you enjoy smart, well-plotted historical fantasy, yet set in a secondary world then you shouldn't miss out on Drakenfeld.
This is the first book by this author that I have read. The author acknowledges, and it is evident, that much of the environment in which the book is set is influenced by that of ancient Rome and the Roman Empire and Republic. This is not a bad thing, as the setting has a `settled' feeling to it, well-established and entrenched which is important when the reader is entering a world which is of long standing, and reading a story featured in that world.
The story involves the young Sun Chamber officer Lucan Drakenfeld, who must return home to Tryum when his father dies. Shortly after his return, a very important person in the city dies, and Drakenfeld's reputation is such that he is appointed by the King to investigate the death, which happened in very suspicious circumstances. Drakenfeld is ably assisted by his colleague Leana, and together they must delve into every corner of Tryum to try to solve the mysteries that are put in their way.
This is a good rollicking adventure story, full of references to an ancient culture and a people who live by their gods and their history. Drakenfeld is an empathetic character, and the story has sufficient twists and turns to keep the reader's interest from beginning to end. Definitely recommended.
on 16 December 2013
Drakenfeld is anything from your standard modern fantasy novel, no magic, not much bad language and only the merest breakout of violence. This is because Drakenfeld is actually a murder mystery wrapped in a historical fiction set in Ancient Rome.
In fact I would say the author does very little to hide the basis of his world and leading city Tryum. The major difference from his imagined world to our ancient one is a clever idea of a conglomeration of nations with a overseeing law enforcement body, known as the Sun Chamber, to ensure peace across the continent.
This feature allows the titular Drakenfeld the freedom and responsibility to investigate the murder of the kings sister, all while coming to terms with the death of his father in strange circumstances.
All in all this is a good who dunnit which is interesting and engrossing if a little slowly paced with some odd and at times seemingly unnecessary detours. It is definately a series I shall be looking out for in the future.
on 10 October 2013
DRAKENFELD is a cross between historical and detective fiction, all in a fantasy setting.
The titular character, Drakenfeld, is the scion of an influential family and a member of the "Sun Chamber" - an enigmatic order dedicated to preserving the uneasy peace between the empire's constituent kingdoms. As such, Drakenfeld is part diplomat, part detective. He's tasked with rooting out corruption, but also making sure that the 'big picture' is firmly in mind. Drakenfeld sees himself as a man of the people, but with every new day and new assignment, he learns more and more about the empire he's tasked to protect.
And protecting Drakenfeld? Leana - who is Darkenfeld's counterpart and, in many ways, opposite. Leana's from one of the empire's more remote corners, and is a fierce warrior with a mysterious past. While Drakenfeld prefers cunning, Leana tends to direct action. Similarly, when Drakenfeld is too caught up to see the obvious, Leana is always there to remind him (and have a laugh at his expense). They're a fantastic team - a bit Nero Wolfe & Archie Goodwin, if Nero were slightly more mobile and Archie a lot more lethal.
The third hero? The setting itself. From his earlier work in the New Weird series, "Legends of the Red Sun", Mark Charan Newton established himself as a master of evocative, unusual cities. In Drakenfeld, he continues this trend: Tryum, a city clearly inspired by ancient Rome, leaps off the page. Drakenfeld himself is returning home after a long absence, and his connection to the city of his youth gives further depth to the city, as we see it through his nostalgic (and often rose-tinted) vision.
And, of course, the mystery. Newton resurrects one of the classic tropes of detective fiction with a locked room murder. Drakenfeld is given the task of solving an impossible (but very real) crime, with brutally high stakes. His own family may be involved and the fate of the nation most definitely is. Newton combines the mechanics of detection with the epic scope of fantasy, and the result is a combination that easily sits among the best in both genres.
on 18 December 2014
Dont be fooled by the Germanic eagle on the front, this is set in a fantasy Roman setting. Solid world-building and well realised characters. My only criticism would be the slightly formulaic plot with an obvious twist, but overall I highly rate this book.
The Royal Union has bound the nations of the Vispasian continent together for more than two centuries, with the ultranational police force known as the Sun Chamber being essential for enforcing peace between the kingdoms. Lucan Drakenfeld, an officer of the Sun Chamber, is recalled to his home city of Tryum by the death of his father. However, whilst setting his father's affairs in order, Drakenfeld becomes embroiled in politics and murder. There are forces in Tryum that would see it reach out and become the great empire it used to be, forces that would kill to make that happen...and other forces who would kill to ensure it doesn't.
Drakenfeld is Mark Charan Newton's sixth novel and the first in a new series set in a fantasised Rome (sort of) featuring Lucan Drakenfeld as a private detective (or the equivalent thereof). Drakenfeld is an enlightened man living in unenlightened times, a man who believes in the Union but has to deal with the nationalistic forces that threaten to tear it apart.
In this novel, Newton is doing several things. First of all, he's telling a fairly compelling murder mystery. Secondly, he's using the novel to comment on the state of epic fantasy and its conservative tendencies. A large number of interesting issues come into this, such as the fear of the people of Tryum towards 'the other' (Drakenfeld's assistant is a dark-skinned woman from a far distant nation) and kneejerk nationalism overriding the wider common good. There aren't lazy correlations with real-life events, but there's certainly some food for thought going on under the fairly straightforward surface.
In terms of character, Drakenfeld makes for a likable protagonist but not the most dynamic one. Drakenfeld is a good man, trusting (but not too much), loyal, dedicated and so on. He's also a little bit boring due to his earnest reasonableness with no apparent foibles. His sidekick, Leana, and redoubtable friend, the amable-but-prejudiced Veron, are both far more interesting but the strict, first-person POV means we don't get to know them very well.
In terms of writing, Newton knows how to tell a good story and does it quite well. However, the book suffers from an abrupt shift in gears and pacing towards the end of the novel that the writing never really pulls off. Suddenly what was an intriguing, well-played murder mystery turns into a full-on epic fantasy complete with marching armies, sieges and clandestine night assaults. This shift in gears is so jarring you may drop the book, and never really makes much sense. The worldbuilding is also flawed: the superb evocation of the faux-Roman atmosphere of Tryum and its people is let down by the later revelation that the 'continent' of Vispasia is actually only marginally bigger than Italy itself (oddly, given the variety of landforms mentioned in the descriptions of the various nations) and armies can be summoned, assembled, armed, equipped and sent into battle at just a moment's notice.
This conclusion saps a lot of believability from the narrative, and I was left wishing for a novel much more focused on the murder and perhaps on the political intrigue. The military stuff fails to convince, but at least it does upset the status quo and leaves Drakenfeld in a very interest place for the sequels.
Drakenfeld (***) is, for most of its length, a compelling murder mystery novel with some great atmosphere and writing which abruptly shifts gears in the final chapters and fails to pull it off. However, it does a great job of establishing the character of Drakenfeld and the world of the Vispasian Union and certainly leaves the reader wanting to know more about his adventures. The novel is available in the UK and USA now.
on 21 April 2014
A very interesting mix of crime novel and fantasy novel. very well written. I really enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone looking for a different style of fantasy.