Ooof! Well, it’s Monday again. I landed in that strange and mystical land known as ‘America’ two days past, and while I gather my bearings and recover my mental facilities (I’m bloody tired, innit), during which time I hope to find my way back to my own book-reviewing self, here is a lovely little guest review from a somewhat familiar guest face around here – Joanne Hall has been kind enough to submit a second post to the blog! You can read the first one here, but for today here is her review of Richard Ford’s The Shattered Crown…
Series: Steelhaven #2 | Edition: Paperback | Publisher: Headline | Publication date: 22nd April 2014
Heroes must rise…
The King is dead. His daughter, untested and alone, now wears the Steel Crown. And a vast horde is steadily carving a bloody road south, hell-bent on razing Steelhaven to the ground.
…Or the city will fall.
Before the city faces the terror that approaches, it must crush the danger already lurking within its walls. But will the cost of victory be as devastating as that of defeat?
“The Shattered Crown” is sequel to Richard Ford’s debut, “Herald of the Storm,” and although there are several references in the text to the previous book, it holds up well as a stand-alone. Which is good, because I promised Lisa I’d review it and I *whisper* haven’t read the first one yet…
Tut tut, slapped wrist. Anyway, the King is dead, and his city, Steelhaven, is under threat from a barbarian horde sweeping down from the north. The defence of the city lies in the untested hands of his daughter, Janessa, who isn’t as fragile as she first appears.
Steelhaven is a wretched hive of scum and villainy, and its green-jacketed police force struggle to keep order while battling with the underworld power of the Guild; racketeers, torturers, murderers, out to make a profit while the city prepares to burn. Street urchin Rag has got mixed up with the Guild and ends up as the pet of Friedrik, one of what passes for middle management in such organisations. He thinks she’s compliant, but Rag is far smarter and more manipulative than she first appears.
Back at the palace, Kaira, a follower of the warrior-goddess Vorenna who has left her calling, is given the duty of protecting the new Queen from both outside danger and people within her inner circle who wish her harm. Reluctantly assigned with her is Merrick Ryder, a loveable alcoholic loser with daddy issues who might just be able to get over his self-loathing to make something good of himself. Kaira believes in him, even if he doesn’t.
Also thrown into this entertaining mix are a band of not-quite-human warriors come to pledge their swords to Janessa, a dangerous banking cartel, a couple of wandering assassins and a secretive society of magic wielders beset by internal conflict. Ford has been referred to as “grimdark”, but, aside from a few squick moments featuring intestines and a couple of dead dogs, “The Shattered Crown” wasn’t anywhere near as grim as, say, Lawrence or Abercrombie. While it doesn’t have the “wow” factor of “The Heroes”, it does at least have a number of strong, capable, convincing female characters that were absent from “Prince of Thorns”. And most of the characters, male and female, have likeable, sympathetic qualities. Even the murderous ones (there’s a hint of Logen Ninefingers about Nobul Jacks, good cop with a dark side, but it’s just a hint.)
An enjoyable not-too-grimdark romp through the gritty streets of Steelhaven, a city on the brink. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when the dreaded Khurtic hordes finally turn up. Let’s hope they don’t take too long….
Joanne Hall lives in Bristol, England, with her partner. She has been writing since she was old enough to hold a pen, and gave up a sensible (boring) job in insurance to be a full time writer, to the despair of her mother. She dabbled in music journalism, and enjoys going to gigs and the cinema, and reading. Her first three novels, which made up the New Kingdom Trilogy, were published by Epress Online. Since then she has had to move house to make more room for books. Her short stories have been published in several anthologies, including “Dark Spires” and “Future Bristol”, as well as a number of magazines. A collection of short stories, “The Feline Queen” was published by Wolfsinger Publications in April 2011, and her latest novel, “The Art of Forgetting” was published by Kristell Ink in two volumes in 2013 /14. She is also one of the founder s of Bristolcon. Her blog can be found at www.hierath.co.uk, and she’s always happy to hear from readers.