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on 10 August 2017
Set in a pseudo-Renaissance Italy, the novel follows Lucien, one of the 'orfano', mysterious orphans abandoned outside a sprawling, gothic castle. Lucien is 18 and about to be 'tested', to assume a role of responsibility in the court, but when he realises that there is injustice and evil at the heart of the kingdom, he decides he must end it.

This is fun and fast paced fantasy with lots of classic tropes I enjoy - young orphan who has a special destiny, an underdog outsider, courtly intrigue. Lucien is frustrating at times (you want to shake him!) but I especially enjoyed the other orfano, and it's a richly imagined and interesting world. Recommended.
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on 19 May 2017
Loved this book. A real gothic feel to the world and characters. Reminded me a little of Jon Courtenay Grimwood's Assassini books. Great imagination and a promise of more to come.
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VINE VOICEon 27 April 2014
18 year old Lucien de Fontein is an Orfano - a deformed orphan left outside Demesne (a huge castle that houses the ruling families of Landfall) and made a ward of the king (who has not been seen for years and who lets his majordomo rule in his stead). Since the age of 8, Lucien has been taught and tested every year, ready to assume a position of responsibility within the Demesne. But Lucian knows that something's rotten within the state of Landfall and he's acquired a number of enemies, the most dangerous of which is Superiore Giancarlo who'll be running Lucien's last test and who's just looking for an excuse to do him real harm ...

Den Patrick's fantasy novel is a nicely written but slim tale of intrigue and discrimination in a claustrophobic castle where everyone is subject to the scrutiny and malice of their neighbours. The novel's chapters alternate between Lucien's final testing and its aftereffects and an account of his childhood, which gives the story an episodic feel. My main issue is that for someone highly educated and politically aware, Lucien charges headlong into trap after trap, reacting to events rather than driving them forward. Worse is the fact that he's been aware for 4 years that something bad is happening to Landfall's women and yet does absolutely nothing until the plot requires him to, which made it difficult for me to care about him. This is a shame because Patrick keeps the action moving and I enjoyed the Medieval Italian influences to his fantasy world, however while the book sets up a sequel I'm not that interested in reading on - although I would check out Patrick's other books.

My favourite character in the book is actually the mysterious Anea, who always wears a veil in public and who communicates by writing notes to be read out by others. Intelligent and cautious, she's the only character who really calls Lucien on his stupidity and who successfully navigates the dangers of the court. I would have preferred more scenes with her in the book than the under-developed Rafella, who's signalled as a love interest far too early and whose attraction to the younger, brash Lucien was not something I really understood.

Ultimately, while this novel didn't really do it for me I enjoyed Patrick's writing style enough to want to read his other work - just not this series.

Review copy from publisher.
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on 17 April 2017
"Vanity is always the first casualty of survival"

* * *
3 / 5

I picked up The Boy With The Porcelain Blade from the library on a whim, mostly because the cover was nice and the title sounded a bit intriguing. For the first half or so I was rather underwhelmed, annoyed partly by constant switching back and forward in time and partly by the arrogant main character, Lucien. But slowly the book started to grow on me as the characters got fleshed out more and the action started building momentum.

"You'll marry me Lucien. You'll marry me if you want to live. And you'll help me teach my mother a lesson. What you do at night is your own concern, but I will want an heir at some point, so try not to catch anything"

Lucien is an Orfano, part of a group of people that are born with a specific set of deformities: black nails, poisonous spines, fleshy growths. They are the King's favoured, allowed to train with the best swordsmen in the city and under the tutelage of the best of the professore, but shunned by most of the people of Demesne due to their appearance. We meet Lucien as he undertakes his 18th birthday trial to become a man of the house of Fontein. He is arrogant, hot-headed, and brash, and I disliked him almost immediately. Eight pages later we zip backwards in time to nine years previously to meet a much more likeable eight year old Lucien. The book continues in this manner, flipping forwards and backwards every ten or so pages.

As you might have noticed, The Boy With The Porcelain Blade is set in some sort of quasi-Italian Renaissance setting. As far as I can tell, it is entirely fictional whilst adopting some of the language, clothes, and etiquette of that period. It's a bit hard to tell because the setting is so vague and whilst it gets clearer as the book progress, the details still remain murky. There's a land with one major city, Demesne, ruled over by a King who is about three hundred years old and is under the grasp of the Majordomo, a character of dubious allegiances and dastardly plots. There are four major houses: Fontein, Prospero, Erudito, and Contadino, each roughly based around different professions and character traits.

"Lady Anea Erudito wishes it to be known that the next person to use the word strega will, and I quote, "have their f-ing head cut off"."

The plot starts off slowly, interrupted by the all the backstory, and initially focuses around Lucien's expulsion from Demesne. Yawn. It was boring and tedious and I was much more interested in the backstory because Lucien there is about ten times more likeable and interesting. The prose is also quite dense, with lots of details and confusing titles that make the beginning quite hard to get through. It was only after halfway through, when Younger Lucien was about sixteen and catching up to Older Lucien, that everything really picked up for me. It is such a shame that it took so long because I had almost given up by this point, when all of a sudden I was turning pages like there was no tomorrow.

What exactly improved? There were a few things. Firstly, the plot veers sharply into a mystery and is intriguing. I had a couple of notions about what was going on and turns out I was completely off course. A lot more politics and intrigue was developed alongside the lopping off of heads. Secondly, Lucien became a whole lot more likeable, mostly helped along by the backstory. I sympathised with his hot-headedness rather than being thoroughly irritated by it. Thirdly, the secondary characters become far more interesting, developed, and actually had stuff to do.

"Why can't you be more like him? He's got a nice suit. He's got a drake on his shoulder. He's got a sword cane. Really, Lucien, you've let the side down. This getting-thrown-into-the-oubliette business is beneath you"

I grew to love Anae and Dino, two of the other Orfano. Anae is slightly younger than Lucien and is mute; she writes notes and always wears a veil. Around her age is Dino, who keeps a drake as a pet, is adorable in a little suit, and carries a sword cane. He also swear explicitly and hilarious for a twelve year old. Then there's Virmyre, one of Lucien's teachers, equal parts stern professor and hilarious drunkard and father figure to Lucien. Opposing this close knit gang is the Majordomo. He's a fabulous character because he's so morally grey; I really wasn't sure where his interests and allegiances lay until quite far on in the book.

The Boy With The Porcelain Blade requires a bit of work to get to the rewarding parts. I was interested, then bored, then more bored, and then all of a sudden I was laughing aloud and invested in the characters and the plot. I will be picking up the sequel and I hope it continues in the vein of the end of The Boy With The Porcelain Blade.
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on 2 April 2014
This book was not what I was expecting from the blurb and opening chapter. It starts at a critical point in the main character Lucien's life, as he faces the final test that will complete his training as a soldier. It goes horribly wrong, and Lucien is soon exiled from the city. Demesne is a city split into elite houses, each with a speciality, ruled by a king no one has seen for decades. Lucien is one of the 'Orfani', treated to an exceptional education & living in luxury, but separated by some kind of abnormality - in Lucien's case, he has black fingernails & no ears.

The book alternates from chapter to chapter between the present where he deals with the consequences of exile, and the past where we learn more about him, from when he was a small child gradually getting closer to the present. While some of these flashbacks were interesting, I did find myself skimming through several of them, wanting to get back to the excitement of the present and the maturity of 18 year old Lucien rather than the more childish version in the other chapters.

I felt like it took until the second half of the book for the story to start living up to the promise of the first couple of chapters, with the intrigue and the challenge of a system finally coming out. That's where it really started to pick up for me and I felt far more engaged. Lucien's journey across the city, through the creepy sanatoria, the oubliette, and onwards, trying to rescue & save his friend before she is co-opted in to another gruesome experiment, kept me on the edge of my seat.

The other thing worth commenting on is that this is quite a creepy story. I'd almost class it as horror rather than fantasy. There are a lot of spiders, so I found myself picking my feet up from the floor while I read some parts! If I'd been watching this on tv, there are a lot of places where I think I would have been peeking around a cushion at the screen.

While it takes a little while to get to reach the potential set up by the first chapter and the blurb, 'The Boy With The Porcelain Blade' is a gripping fantasy story which will keep you up past your bedtime and probably sleeping with the light on. I look forward to the second book in the trilogy.

Overall, I give The Boy With The Porcelain Blade 7/10.

[A copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Originally posted on my book blog, link in my profile.]
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on 11 August 2017
I felt that an awful lot of fantasy felt samey. Patrick has created a weird Italianate world, with outsiders, Orfano, with what look like weird mutations. Noble Families manoeuvre for advantage in a decayed world where we do not trust the official history. A bit of Gormenghast and a bit of the Borgias. Sinister, stylish, with a touch of wit, this is the rapier of fantasy not the broadsword.
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on 7 May 2015
On a mysterious island at some unspecified time, what appears to be a society of stranded Italian Renaissance nobles, their servants, knights and tutors engage in complex courtships and intrigues under the watchful eyes of an enigmatic cowled Majordomo and a king who has not been seen for some time. What makes the place particularly uncanny is the presence of the Orfani, strangely disfigured young people whose origins are unknown. At first these effects, such as black fingernails, seem quite minor, while others like the silence of the mysterious, veiled Anea seem part of her enigmatic beauty. Gradually, however, more details are revealed, some genuinely shocking.
Despite their outward differences, the Orfani enjoy high status in the elaborate ruling citadel of Demesne. There aren’t that many of them and none of them are particularly old, which both hints at the conspiracy afoot and also puts the novel in the enviable position of being enjoyed by young adult and older readers as well. The intrigues are detailed and visceral while the fast pace of the book keeps things going despite the device of placing alternate chapters in the past, which while avoiding exposition at the outset can be disjointing.
The protagonist, spirited teenager Lucien, is on the receiving end of some nastily effective bullying which appears to be part of a plot to promote his yobbish rival Golia to a position of power that feels like bad news for the rest of the island. These scenes are very effective and Lucien’s response to them is satisfying. He does seem supernaturally confident but then he is not a normal young man. In other areas he struggles as we all do and what the book does very well is show that his success is the result not only of his own determination but that of the people close to him.
The female characters are particularly strong; not only Anea but the lovely Rafaela, the gentle but no-nonsense cook and even supporting characters like the scheming Lady Prospero and her savvy daughter Stephania. Other reviewers have mentioned ‘Gormenghast’ but lady Prospero’s name brings to mind another influence, ‘The Tempest’. This novel captures the same sense of a theatrical, mysterious island with its stranded characters struggling with plots both political and apparently supernatural. The result is eerily sexy.
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on 10 August 2017
One of the best books I've read in recent memory, The Boy with the Porcelain Blade is a clear winner in the gothic fantasy genre which is sadly, so underrepresented in fiction as a whole.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 4 April 2014
I was sent a copy of this book by the publisher.

I didn’t know what to expect from the book, although I was perhaps slightly sceptical of (yet another) book with “blade” in the title, which seemed to promise plenty of swordplay, but not much else.

I’m happy to say that the book is excellent. Yes, there are plenty of fights, but there’s so much more. Den Patrick creates characters who are believable and human yet at the same time monstrous and strange. He places them in a haunted landscape, both tantalisingly familiar and yet very alien - and then sets in motion an awful sequence of rivalries, betrayals and manipulations which threatens to consume the little world of Demesne before the reader’s eyes.

The book is the story of Lucien, who we see both “now”, living though several action packed days in “Febbraio 315”, and “then”. in flashbacks covering the previous few years. We see Lucien grow up, struggling with his strange position in the almost-fairyland of Demesne. Demesne is a castle, housing feuding nobles and the Ling of Landfall. Under the King’s protection are the Orfani, of whom Lucien is one, foundlings, most of who are deformed or strange in some way. The Orfani are housed, fed and educated in Demesne - though they are feared and hated by the “normal” inhabitants of the castle. In time, they must pass “tests”: to what end, we are never sure.

So at one level, this is the story of a growing boy, learning about and challenging his place in the world. At another, it’s a battle of monsters, and a search for the truth - about Landfall, the Orfani themselves and the mysterious King. The two strands are deftly woven together, and Patrick uses Lucien’s feeling of oddness, of not fitting in, both to make him sympathetic (haven’t we all felt like that?) and at the same time to inject a real, sulphurous note of peril into the story. In the end, what might Lucien not do, pressed to the limit and threatened with death and dishonour?

It is an exciting read, and enjoyable to see a fantasy that seems to be taking place just off the pages of Machiavelli or Dante, perhaps, rather than Mallory or Tolkien. (Though we never quite learn how or whether Patrick’s imaginary world fits with our own - perhaps Landfall is a lost island somewhere in our world, people with feuding clans reenacting the bloody squabbles of renaissance Italy? Or perhaps it’s something much stranger than that…)

Different, and the start, I think, of an engaging series.
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on 10 August 2017
Great read. Not the usual sort of book I read, really enjoyed it though
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