on 22 March 2002
Don't be put off by the HUGE thickness of this book - you won't notice how time passes once you get into it. And for a collaberation, the style is remarkably consistent.
In a parallel world where magic is real, but is fundamentally just a form of prayer, huge political pressure comes to bear on the independant city of Venice. And this is the home of the brothers Marco and Benito Valdosta, last scions of one of the oldest noble houses of Venice, who have been hiding from assassins in the swamps and slums since orphaned as young children, and now almost fully grown. They don't want to get mixed up in the politics that killed their mother, but it seems they have little choice. The Lion of Venice may sleep, but its Shadow is bringing together an unlikely group of heroes. The brothers Valdosta will find their fates caught up with Kat, a smuggler struggling to preserve her own house's reputation (which house just happens to have a vendetta against Valdosta); the reliable canal girl Maria, and her lover, the deadly mercenary Caesaro Aldonte; Manfred, the youngest wastrel nephew of the Holy Roman Emperor, sent incognito among the Knight of the Trinity (a religious order much resented in Italy) into Venice, along with his protector Erik, the tomohawk wielding Icelander who must both protect and reform his royal charge. And then we have Chiano, the marshdwelling mage whose past is lost to him, and his brainwashed former assassin Harrow, and even Petro Dorma, the rising star of Venetian Politics and head of the secret police. All must learn to work to a common goal, if the Lion of Venice is to be awoken in time to hold back the forces of the demon Chernobog. But Chernobog already has agents loose within the city...
This is the first novel in a new 5-part series set in an alternate history in which the christian church, rather than suppressing the knowledge of magic, tolerates it within certain limits. (As one of the authors pointed out when discussing the book, the early church didn't deny the existence of magic, just said that Christian magic was more powerful). The books are all named after Shakespearian quotes: After this will come This Rough Magic, A Mankind Witch, Much Fall of Blood and The Great Doom's Image. Each book will focus on a different group of our heroes. (This book is mostly Marco's and Kat's, while Rough magic will focus on Benito and Maria, and Mankind Witch on Eric and Manfred). This means that this book stands very well on its own, and the others should do the same.
The book is set in 1537-8, over 1000 years after the divergence of our histories, and some of the differences are only hinted at in the text (the combined Viking/Native American nation is a nice touch). Europe is under great tension. The Christian church is divided into two factions - the germanic Pauline tradition, with the familiar intolerance, militant orders and inquisitions that existed in our history at this time (but which also has a very real evil to fight), and the more modern Petrine sect, based on compassion and forgiveness but with a tendency to complacency and relying on the Paulines to hold the demons at bay. The Holy Roman Empire, and the kingdoms of Hungary and Lithuania are in an uneasy balance. This is not helped by the fact that the Lithuanian king Jagellon has been possessed by the demon Chernobog for decades. Now Chernobog has decided to destroy the neutral city-state of Venice, a key to Mediterranian trade, and so precipitate a war between his two rivals, and also setting the two halves of the Church at one anothers' throats. And only our group of ill-prepared youngsters have the potential to awaken the one being in Venice as powerful as any Demon - the Winged Lion of Saint Mark.
A fair part of this book (mostly the early sections about the Valdosta brothers) is taken from Mercedes Lackey's previous work in the Merovingian Nights series, but it soon diverges from the original as other characters are introduced. (According to Eric Flint, 60,000 words from the 80,000 of Mercedes Lackey's original work were included in the final 290,000 word draft.) However the new material is enough to make two decent sized books by itself!
Overall, this is a book I heartily recommend - just make sure you've got lots of room on your bookshelf for the rest when they come out!
on 18 July 2007
A very well written book, much as one expects of Mercedes Lackey by now - if you haven't read her other books I suggest you look them up and buy them.
Following on from the review above, I have been unable to find Much Fall of Blood and The Great Doom's Image, have they been released yet? Or are they by other authors?
Also - although A mankind Witch was written last, it should be read 2nd, to get the correct chronological order of events in the books.