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Sunday, August 22, 2010

"The Last King's Amulet" by Chris Northern (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

INTRODUCTION:"My name is Sumto, and I am a gambling, lazy, good-for-nothing drunk who has to join the army and fight in a war I am frankly too corpulent to cope with. Still, that's got to be as bad as things get, Am I right?"

"The Last King's Amulet" is another independent book that I discovered through a review query at FBC. The blurb above intrigued me, so I checked the Smashwords 20% sample linked above and when I liked what I was reading there, I got the full version; the novel pulled me in so I finished it a day or so and then I bought the second novel in the series The Key to the Grave which was a good sequel but lacked the freshness of the original and had a bit too much repetition in structure/plot.

ANALYSIS: "The Last King's Amulet" is narrated in first person by Sumto Cerulian "patron" of Luria - aka The City, a Rome analogue but with high magic that it reserves for itself, destroying any other state/grouping that tries to use magic.

Sumto, a scion of the highest nobility likes books, good food and drink, women and intellectual discussions, while he dislikes politics and war; of course he is considered a wastrel in the martial/political society of the City, his father is almost ready to disinherit him, the creditors are circling like vultures..

Another day in his regular life, another trip to see his mother behind his father's back and scrounge some more cash... But now there is a difference - his sister has finally been betrothed to an older noble who makes it clear to Sumto that his easy life is done; either Sumto accepts his heritage and goes on the current campaign against some troublesome Northern tribes, or he goes away forever, not necessarily alive.

As Sumto puts it, possible death in battle against certain death at the hands of his future-in-law retainers, no contest...
And so the adventure starts and the troubles begin; the question though is whose troubles, Sumto's or the nasty enemies that plot the City's downfall in what seems a run of the mill rebellion?

While the Roman analogies are clear and consistent and a big plus for me as a fan of such, the novel has other strengths too. The narrator Sumto is quite engaging and his evolution from his easy life to responsibilities and command is well delineated showing his inner struggles, his doubts, his errors.

With the help of his resourceful slave and latter first freedman and client Meran and of Jocasta his girlfriend-to-be with magical powers in a culture where women of the nobility are supposed to be good wives and mothers only, Sumto confronts adversity and while he occasionally gets defeated, he does not give up. "The Last King's Amulet" also stands out by the underlying "serious" debates Sumto has with various notables, enemies or even himself about the nature of "good governance", slavery, servitude, rich vs poor and generally stuff that is quite applicable today. These debates are genrally integrated very well within the text and the novel's pace never suffers, though again in the sequel there is some repetitiveness that grates occasionally.

"The Last King's Amulet" is a fun and fast adventure fantasy that flows very well and has very little of the usual editing mistakes I've seen in independent books - there are one or two continuity errors, but nothing serious. The book is the beggining of a series that the author plans to continue for a while. While the ending achieves some closure, if you like the novel I highly recomend to read The Key to the Grave which picks up where this one ends and takes the story to a more definite ending, so these two installments are like two halves of a large novel.

The novel has a bit too much high magic for my taste and occasionally degenerates into "my sorcery is bigger than yours" - syndrome that is even more pronounced in the sequel - but it is fun, energetic and strongly recommended. I am really curious to see what's next and I plan to get the third installment whenever available.


Chris Northern said...

The Paperback version is finally available Amazon, if you have been waiting.

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