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Friday, July 3, 2009

"Interregnum" by SJA Turney (reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Simon J. A. Turney Website
Order "Interregnum" HERE(US) and HERE(UK and Overseas)
Read the First Three Chapters from "Interregnum" HERE
Watch the "Interregnum" Trailer (wmv) HERE

INTRODUCTION: Several days ago I found about this very promising new author absolutely by chance and I got hooked on the epic fantasy "Interregnum" excerpt linked above; I immediately asked for a pdf review copy and read the novel after I had finished the then-current read, vaulting it to the top of a huge pile of books containing quite a few well known recent/soon tbp novels. It was this exciting and interesting for me!
A military fantasy novel set in a late Imperial Rome like world and a page turner end to end.

SJA Turney is also the author of the recently released "Marius' Mules" which as the title suggests, is a novel about the Roman Legions of the Late Republic; the novel is based on the early Julius Caesar's Gaul campaigns and I read it last week. While less polished than this one, "Marius' Mules" is an excellent adventure historical fiction with a strong military component and I plan to include it in a July/August feature on "Legions of Rome: Novelizations" alongside the first two installments of James Mace' superb military Soldier of Rome series

OVERVIEW: "Interregnum" starts 20 years after the death of the last emperor Quintus who went mad, declared himself a God, was imprisoned by the Senate in his palace and died in an escape attempt engineered by his most loyal marshal Kiva Caerdin.

Later, general Caerdin shattered by the death of his Emperor and resting at his estate was caught in the war between the 3 other marshals and when his villa was burned with his wife and son inside, he died looking for vengeance.

At least this is the official story.

Only the political marshal Avitus who later took the name of the Imperial capital as Lord Velutio walked away alive from the big battle but the Empire fell to pieces with the army splintering in local units, lords claiming independence, while Velutio could retain only a stronghold around the capital.

The offhsore island of Isera, home of the Emperor's Palace and hard to reach due to reefs and treacherous currents, became a "jail" for the important politicians of the Empire as Velutio pondered his options.

20 years of fighting led to the rise of 34 year old Sabian a general believed to be on par with the last great Imperial general Caerdin and who became Lord Velutio's army commander despite the mistrust between the two; Sabian thought that only Velutio, unsavory, cruel and all, can reconstitute the Empire while Avitus has never been much of a general despite his rank so he needed a great soldier at his side.

In an obscure corner of the Empire, weary mercenary leader Kiva Tregaron fights one more battle for some losing lordling, while a strange young boy, escaping other mercenary captors asks for help in return for a considerable sum of money.

On Isera, former minister Sarios leader of the exiles has been grooming two young promising boys Darius and Quintilian in the arts of fighting and government.

The novel stands at about 440 pages divided into five parts with multiple POV's, most notably Kiva, Quintilian, Darius and Sabian and quite a few other important characters. There are some maps at the beginning and an epilogue at the end, which adds
a "historical" touch to the novel.

ANALYSIS: Interregnum is a very compelling page turner from the opening skirmish in the never ending minor wars between various lords to its epilogue some 440 pages later. I could not put this novel down unless I *really needed* to since I was drawn into its world and wanted to find out what happens.

The novel has a combination of the expected and some twists and turns I did not see, so while I could glimpse where it goes, there were quite a few surprises on the way. The characters are well drawn and believable. It is also a blood and guts novel, brutal at times with quite a lot of fighting, gore, summary killings as well as drawn out crucifixions and as it behooves such, the main characters are men, with only serving maid Sathina who seizes her chance for a better life and helps our heroes, as the one woman featuring somewhat prominently.

While the novel has great narrative flow and the prose is very clear, the one noticeable though minor niggle is the use of anachronisms like "planet" - in reference to the world of the story which implies a subtle cosmological worldview or "genetic" which implies a subtle scientific worldview, and those leaped from the pages to my attention as quite discordant.

The fighting, either hand to hand or long distance with crossbows and throwing knives is very well done, brutal, merciless and with no theatrics, while the characters' combination of honor and expedience is very believable too. There is a lot of intrigue, political maneuvers and all you can expect from the kind of novel "Interregnum" wants to be and succeeds magnificently as it happens.

Of the characters Kiva is the best drawn one, haunted by the past, believing himself cursed by the gods. Sabianus as his "modern" incarnation tries very hard to maintain the balance between honor in the abstract and actually doing honorable things, while the two youngsters Quintilian and Darius start as relatively inexperienced, but that changes quickly in the heat of the events.

One superb touch of the novel is in showcasing the contradiction between wanting to do well and even doing the immediate honorable thing, which may actually have quite unforeseen terrible consequences, and doing the expedient, "practical" and sometimes even brutal and murderous thing for personal gain, but which may lead to peace for the land and a tolerably better life for many.

Can you have both in terrible and dangerous times? Honor and practical results, or doing the "right" thing and doing the "practical" one are exclusive? And who is a hero then?
The straight one whose actions lead to death and misery for many, or the crooked one whose action leads to some improvements in the life of the many? The novel tries to show both options and it succeds to a large extent.

A great debut and excellent military fantasy, highly recommended and a personal favorite.


PeterWilliam said...

Thanks, Liv. You know I've been waiting for this one.

Jeff C said...

This sounds pretty interesting. Thanks for the info, Liviu. I'll have to look up more details. Is it out yet, or coming later this fall?

Liviu said...

Thank you for your kind words; the book is out

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