It was during the otherwise enjoyable ‘Weavers of Saramyr’ that I finally figured out what was bugging me about the magic in several fantasy series I had been reading. I decided to name it the ‘X-men magic’ approach, where for reasons never explained different people could do completely different types of magic; often being the exclusive user of that particular power. And it was one of those things I couldn’t unsee; I don’t require an explanation of magic in every book but for some reason I wanted one with when there was this much inconsistency in what seemingly the same characters could do.
Well, Glenda Larke shows how it could be done right. Several characters in her new book, The Lascar’s Dagger, have witcheries that have been granted during times of need. Whether god given or the result of a force of nature is yet to be told, but simply by granting that something is guiding which of these unique powers people take on took what has often seemed like a silly convention into something a little more believable.
We first meet Saker, or slightly too good but still enjoyable protagonist, with his spy hat on gathering information on some spice traders with an interesting new cargo. More than a spy, Saker is a priest reporting directly to the Pontifect and knows that a shift in power caused by new trade lanes could lead to eventual war. But his attempts to get closer are interrupted by another man, a thief with his eye on something hiding in the cargo. They scuffle, almost blow each other’s cover, and while seemingly going their separate ways Saker is hit by the Lascar’s dagger in the thigh. Notice that this dagger is mentioned in the title of the book? Ya, watch that crafty little thing, it will play an important part in this book.
Saker’s next assignment sends him to act a spiritual mentor to the royal heirs, and of course keep his eye on the local religious head. From here the book splits up between Saker’s story and several other characters; the two royal heirs, occasionally the Lascar, and most enjoyable to me, a young lady trapped in her own prison. Saker tracks corruption, befriends a prince, and is flummoxed by a beautiful princes with a head full of ideas. The Princess looks to fill the role of women fighting society’s oppression; but Larke refused to let her be defined so easily. Is she good or just manipulative? Perhaps it is best to ask her servant, Sorrell, trapped in servitude by a secret from her past. Always the loyal servant is Sorrell, and an interesting juxtaposition to the princess; they both long for a freedom society isn’t willing to give them in different ways.
Not a real fast moving read, though where action is present it is suitably tense. It is strongest in its use of setting and the various cultures within. Political alliances were being built around spice routes, whole economies were being threatened, and within this framework our characters fight their own battles, big and small. I could have read a whole book about the shipping lanes and the various island cultures being affected by them (I loved the ‘Lascar’ explaining just how little the term meant to him, a result of ignorant foreigners grouping everything in a geological area into one cultural group).
When not dealing with the big picture the book faltered a bit more for me; as a character piece I found myself surprised by how much didn’t work for me. Outside of Sorrell I found it hard to connect with the characters; Saker was too good, the prince too royal, the princess too spoiled, the lead villain just a bit too cackling evil. But as a set up for a series, and when dealing with the larger picture, I was hooked. I am fascinated by the age of exploration and can’t wait to see it play out on a larger level in a fantasy novel (no, Kearney’s Monarchies of God doesn’t count; it left the exploration aspect after the first book). I want to see how a certain cursed land is affected by certain actions in the book. I want to know how the religious schism that seems set to grow turns out.
An interesting and fairly unique setting, a magic dagger that takes matters into its own hands, and a war brewing over spice lanes. Add in the promise of meeting more than the one Lascar (and hopefully see the diversity promised in the differing island nations who have been lumped together out of ignorance) and we could have the making of a pretty nice series here.
3 Stars, but with strong potential for the future.
Copy for review received through NetGalley.
Pauline has reviewed this too: read her opinion here.