Series: The Erebus Sequence #1 | This edition: Hardcover | Publisher: Gollancz | Publication date: March 20th 2014 | My rating: 5/5
[This book was received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.]
Lucien de Fontein has grown up an outsider; one of the Orfano, the deformed of the Kingdom of Landfall. He is lonely, tormented by his difference and a pawn in a political game. The reclusive king and his majordomo rule Landfall from the vast castle of Demesne, but the walls are no barrier to darkness from without. Or within.
Landfall is a harsh world of secrets and rivalries, where whispers are as lethal as blades, where control is fragile and the peace waits to be broken. Lucien will have to rely on more than just his blade to protect the ones he loves.
I enjoy darkness in fantasy as much as the next person. Whether it’s grimdark, or a gothic flavour, or simply on account of how nasty some of the characters are. With The Boy With The Porcelain Blade, we get a little bit of all of that – but the best part, for me, is that all the dark is balanced with light, and in the best way possible.
This book has style (bucketloads of it), and it has substance – and it marries the two wonderfully. Take the style, first of all. Tom Pollock has called it “Locke Lamora meets Gormenghast”, and I will happily attest to the fact that he is so very not wrong. The majority of this story takes place in a freaking massive castle, with gargoyles on the rooftops and dungeons and oubliettes down below that have all kinds of scary stories whispered about them. It’s dark. In fact it’s downright creepy in plenty of ways – but there’s also a ray of light, in some way, shape or form, when it’s needed most. The light might be shining through glass that’s a bit grubby, as it were, but it’s there – thanks to the main cast of characters.
Lucien de Fontein is one of the Orfano, a boy barely accepted and relentlessly tormented by the society of Demesne, where he grows up. He has a deformity, as all of the Orfano do – he lacks ears. His hearing is apparently just fine; he simply suffers in appearance. And, as you might guess, ‘polite society’ doesn’t look kindly upon that sort of thing. So, Lucien becomes a very bitter, angry young man – but one determined to better himself, to earn a place in the House of his choice within Demesne through a series of tests. It’s these tests that introduce us to Lucien, and … Well. Let’s just say they don’t go very well for him.
It’s at this point that the story begins to shift back and forth in time, dovetailing Lucien’s present-day trials with significant events in his past, bringing the two tales closer and closer together until the climactic point is reached. It’s also here that the comparison to Locke Lamora rings true. As someone who loves those books, this is pretty high praise, but it has to be said that this book is a far cry from a mere pretender.
It’s in the substance, more than just the style, that Den Patrick distinguishes himself here. The origins of the Orfano and their supposed purpose in society (none of which I’ll detail here, because spoilers) lend a lot to that creepy, creepy darkness I mentioned before. It’s all delightfully gothic, but more than this, it’s the bonds between Lucien and his fellow Orfano that give the story its depth and let you empathise with their plight. Their sufferance of their individual deformities (each one seemingly more severe and disturbing than the last, from Dino, the youngest of them with his poison spines, to Anea, who wears a veil for a shudder-inducingly good reason…) eventually brings them together, a small band of have-nots who refuse to be beaten down by their circumstances. It’s the crafty way they use their heads to wriggle out of tough spots (sometimes by the skin of their teeth) rather than merely fighting their way out that let me really enjoy this story, and by the time the final confrontation came along I was quite firmly on Team Lucien. Though I don’t mind telling you, there was a lot of nail-biting along the way…
In keeping with that brains-over-brawn theme, while there’s plenty of peril involved in the climax, it’s the aftermath that makes it. It was there that I really cheered my team on, and of course it’s there that the (very simple, yet very sly and very intriguing) setup for the second book takes place. I, for one, can’t wait to see what might happen next.
To sum up, this is a beautifully written book with a wonderfully twisty, turny plot, fascinating characters (some I loved, some I thoroughly despised) and an ending that, while it might lack a dramatic cliffhanger, still managed to leave me happily awaiting a second book.
Well played, Mr Patrick. Well played.