I’m sorry folks (and Den) – no GIFs in this review. I know it’s a desperate betrayal of all you know of me, but…honestly, I’m too tired to go hunting for really good swordfighting gifs. Instead, I thought I’d try my hand at a proper review. It may all go horribly wrong. There should be no real spoilers.
Lucien de Fontein is an orfano. As the name suggests, orfano are children of unknown parentage who are fostered into noble families. Even more than this, each orfano carries a mark – a disfigurement – that sets them apart from everyone else. In Lucien’s case, he has been born without ears. In spite of their disfigurement (or, perhaps, because of it) orfano rise fast in the nobility. Quick with their wits and skilled at arms, they draw intrigue to them as naturally as other men might draw breath.
Lucien’s star, however, is not ascendant. When we meet him he is on the verge of becoming outcast, bent double under the weight of a terrible burden: the truth.
The Boy With… is not a book about the revelation of this truth, although it is nonetheless revealed, told in part through a series of chronological flashbacks that alternate with the main timeline, each one a turn of the key that winds de Fontein’s soul tighter until we meet him in the present. It is about finding the strength to confront that truth. The sweet reek of corruption lies heavy on Landfall, and Lucien is not only forced to contend with the Machiavellian schemes of the other orfano, but also with the temptation of his own heart.
The least afflicted by the curse of his birth, he is the least accepted of the orfano. While everyone happily endures the monstrous Golia, his arms sheathed in spikes an outward reflection of his natural brutality, Lucien is mercilessly bullied for daring to pass – for desiring normality. His need to be accepted – to be respected – is as much the heart of this novel as the outward conflict with the mad King and his Majordomo. Lucien is not a glorious or dashing hero: all of his weakness and fragility are laid bare on the page and it is this that sets The Boy With… apart as a singular and brilliant fantasy debut.
The author’s prose is lean – this is no doorstop of a novel – but it is richly woven for all that. The world is not ours, but the thread of Italian terminology woven through the narrative conjures up a comparison to Dumas’ Rome in The Count of Monte Cristo, the wheels of intrigue turning, torchlight warm on a damask hung over marble. It’s Rafael Sabatini by way of a tab of acid.
The Boy with The Porcelain Blade is released in Hardback and Kindle editions on the 20th of March. You can see Den Patrick and Jennifer Williams at Blackwells in London (of course)* on March 10th.
*Book events in the north? HA.