Sunday, September 8, 2013

REVIEW: Drakenfeld by Mark Charan Newton

Drakenfeld by Mark Charan Newton
The Lucan Drakenfeld Novels #1
Published on 10/10/2013 by Tor UK
Uncorrected ARC provided by author
Hardcover and DRM-free ebook formats

I am Lucan Drakenfeld, second son of Calludian, Officer of the Sun Chamber and keeper of the peace. Sometimes people get in the way of that ambition...

Receiving news of his father's death, Drakenfeld is recalled home to the ancient city of Tryum and rapidly embroiled in a mystifying case. The King's sister has been found brutally murdered – her beaten and bloody body discovered in a locked temple. His determination to find the killer quickly makes him a target as the underworld gangs of Tryum focus on this new threat to their power.

Embarking on the biggest and most complex investigation of his career, Drakenfeld soon realises the evidence is leading him towards a motive that could ultimately bring darkness to the whole continent.

The fate of the nations is in his hands.
- Blurb from the ARC

Drakenfeld, the first of Mark Charan Newton's Lucan Drakenfeld novels, takes place in a world heavily inspired by that experienced by the ancient Romans. Unlike many fantasy novels, Drakenfeld is a crime novel with few violent scenes, allowing the story to take a steadier pace that revels in exploring the details and asking questions rather than rushing in a blood-fuelled rage towards the end page, and yet whilst action scenes are rare, the book never feels sluggish or boring. Lucan is rarely standing still, instead moving from place to place in the search of clues and answers, meeting new people and experiencing the flavours of Vispasian life.

In the second strange turn for a fantasy novel, there isn't much of a magic system here. Supernatural aspects flavour the text and the story from time to time, but there are no wizards or druids in long, flowing robes throwing magic bolts at each other, instead Newton has opted to just add a little bit of flavour to spiritual and religious systems shown in his world. These elements serve more to add to the world-building rather than directly influencing the plot, yet their influence on the story and the characters is undeniable. Rather than the forms of magic we traditionally think of, we instead see these gods and spirits work through inspiration and aspiration.

Newton keeps to his fairly distinctive style that I enjoyed in the Legends of the Red Sun series, as well as continuing with his excellent commitment towards a diverse world, yet never is the world particularly 'utopian'. On top of this, Newton's approach towards sexuality is as accepting as his readers will now expect, yet never does it feel like he is trying to make a point, instead using it to shape a world where who you are is more important than what you are, and even when a character's sexuality is questioned, never is it judgemental or exclusionary. Male prostitutes work on streets steeped in the blood of gang warfare, women can unquestionably hold power whilst the underclass struggle to feed themselves – these dynamics that are so simple in hindsight, yet they bring this world to truly life.

I can't think of anything I particularly disliked about this novel. Any issues I had with the story – bar one or two plot points I guessed myself many pages before they happened – are likely due to my inexperience with crime novels rather than anything on Newton's part. His writing is clear and easy to read, his characters likeable and interesting, although I must confess they're a little similar in voice. But not one aspect tarred this read, nor took me out of the book.

More Cadfael than Conan, Drakenfeld is a refreshing change of pace. Newton crafts a vivid, living world that mixes modern thought with ancient aesthetics and tastes, whilst expertly mixing together crime and historical fiction with a hint of fantasy. For those new to Newton's writing, this book is a perfect starting point, and those who are already fans will once again be captivated by his fiction.

Highly recommended!

(Thanks to Mark Charan Newton for supplying the ARC!)

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