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Saturday, November 9, 2013

"The Scarlet Tides" by David Hair (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


"The Moontide has come and the Leviathan Bridge stands open: now thrones will shake and hearts will be torn apart in a world at war.
A scarlet tide of Rondian legions is flooding into the East, led by the Inquisition’s windships flying the Sacred Heart, bright banner of the Church’s darkest sons. They are slaughtering and pillaging their way across Antiopia in the name of Emperor Constant. But the emperor’s greatest treasure, the Scytale of Corineus, has slipped through his fingers and his ruthless Inquisitors must scour two continents for the artefact, the source of all magical power.
Against them are the unlikeliest of heroes. Alaron, a failed mage, the gypsy Cymbellea and Ramita, once just a lowly market-girl, have pledged to end the cycle of war and restore peace to Urte.
East and West have clashed before, but this time, as secret factions and cabals emerge from the shadows, the world is about to discover that love, loyalty and truth can be forged into weapons as strong as swords and magic."

I expected to enjoy The Scarlet Tides as Mage's Blood grew on me quite a lot as time passed, but I did not expect the awesome novel it was, so much so that at least temporarily it jumped to my #1 sff spot of the year - of course time will tell if it will stay there, but The Scarlet Tides has really everything one wants in fantasy: excellent world building, superb adventures, hair rising escapes, great characters, very intriguing storylines, narrative momentum, an almost perfect place to end all the 4 main arcs, while there were some pages that were so funny that I couldn't stop laughing out loud for a few minutes - overall the book stands more on the adventure side of the genre than on the "new gritty" one, though it blends the two aspects quite well. 

For a presentation of the universe and of the main characters of the series I refer to the review of Mage's Blood linked above.    

All the main characters shine in The Scarlet Tides, though I would say that Ramon's war mage persona - so the view of the crusade from the ground up, as of course he is assigned as supporting mage to the worst legion of the army and there to the lowest of the low company, namely the supply one, where he corrupts the commanding tribune and they start running a perfect Ponzi scheme with all the army's gold and much more, while he gets as fellow mages, the incompetent, the stupid, the vain and the ones that annoyed powerful people so:

‘Can we count on them in a fight?’ Ramon asked.
Prenton snorted amiably. ‘A fight? Dear Kore, this is a Crusade, lad, not a war. There’ll be no fighting, only endless days of marching around from ruin to empty ruin. There may be a bit of looting and pillaging thrown in, if we’re lucky. The Keshi don’t fight back. They run and hide.’ He pulled a face. ‘The biggest risk is their God-awful food.’


(while we readers know that this time, the Keshi have quite a few battle magi of their own, not to speak of modern weaponry like gnosis powered aircraft...)

- and Gurvon Gyle's Javon story where his cynicism and "you gotta be realistic" persona are staple new gritty done pitch perfect, were the most directly compelling arcs, but Alaron's saga with quite a few surprises - not least having Malevorn part of the Inquisition posse after him and meeting some strange people in his flight - had its great moments as had the story-lines of Ramita, Kazim or Elena - as of course one knew beforehand that she wouldn't remain possesed by an enemy mage for long.

Here is one quote that illustrates the action part:


"If we can find Gyle, we will kill him before they march,’ Gatoz put in.
‘How will we find him?’ Jamil asked.
‘I will find him,’ Magister Sindon put in, his usually mild voice vehement. ‘I know Gyle, believe me. I have used his services before, and he trusts me.’

********

Sindon turned and made a sign, and the door from which he’d emerged opened again, allowing more hooded figures to enter the courtyard, fanning out as they came. ‘Magister Gyle, we’re so grateful,’ Sindon said, offering his hand.
Sordell saw Gyle go to take the offered hand, when he abruptly froze

****

Sindon’s pupils went wider. The game is up, those eyes said.
It is. Gyle swore softly. And I have too few pieces on the board"


(and a fast and furious battle with spells and swords follows pitting Gurvon Gyle's mercenaries against the renegade Sindon and his Keshi dark mage strike commando)

There are a lot of twists and turns too - including double crosses, strange allies, unexpected connections and as I really do not want to spoil the book, I will just emphasize again that while Mage's Blood takes a while to get going and understand what's what, The Scarlet Tides is how modern epic fantasy should be from the first page and raises the series to the top level of the genre.

One more quote from one of Alaron's close encounters with the Inquistion

"There was nowhere to hide and nowhere to run. He’d landed near a narrow channel that wound from the waterfall above towards the ocean miles to the east, but it was only a few feet deep. He’d dropped his sword as he fell and couldn’t see it anywhere. Brilliant …
Fatalism filled him. There was no way a lowly quarter-blood like him could get out of this. He tried to summon mental images of the people he loved: his parents, Cym, Ramon … Anise – thank Kore I didn’t tell her to wait – and that was about it, really. Not so many to farewell

The venator topped the cliffs and spiralled towards him. He watched it land heavily above Prancer’s body. Its beak dipped and ripped, tearing still-warm flesh from the corpse. The Inquisitor unstrapped his harness, left his lance in its cup and slid to ground. ‘Alaron Mercer, I presume,’ he said ironically. He looked like he might be in his mid-twenties – a half-blood, Alaron guessed, on the basis that he’d not already been overwhelmed. He’d not last much longer though. He had nothing left now, not even a weapon.
He backed away, and the Inquisitor followed him at a leisurely pace. ‘The Crozier wants a word with you,’ he said conversationally, drawing his sword.

************
‘Kore’s blood, you’ve been a nuisance,’ the Inquisitor said, ‘but I’ve got you now.’ Mage-fire blossomed from his left hand and blasted into Alaron’s midriff. His shields failed and his wet clothing sizzled as the energy jolted through him. He curled up, stricken, trying to breathe. The Inquisitor put the sword-point to his throat. Alaron looked along the straight steel blade and wished only to die.
‘I, Acolyte Seldon of the Eighteenth Fist, arrest you in the name of the Inquisition.’

Seldon’s call resounded through the aether and Malevorn rolled his eyes as he followed the call back to the east. Damn. Muttered curses echoed dimly through the aether as the Fist’s mental links conveyed the mix of relief at the finding of their quarry and annoyance at losing the wager.

************

As Alaron stared along Seldon’s blade, watching gnosis-energy crackle along the steel, a dark shape rose behind the Inquisitor..."
 


Overall, The Scarlet Tides represents modern epic fantasy at its best. 

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