The Fallen Blade, (2011) Act I of the Assassini Trilogy by Jon Courtenay Grimwood, was an excellent read, and it reads very fast, while very well written. The author has written a great deal professionally in his previous decades as a journalist and magazine writer, for which he's traveled extensively. He knows a fair amount of languages that aren't English and how they work. All this by way of saying he's a professional and his professionalism shows.
It was a good thing that the cover copy and the reviews never mentioned that this novel set in an 'alternate' 15th century Venice contained a vampire -- who evidently isn't a vampire, just acts like one-- and werewolves -- who are werewolves evidently -- for then I surely would have passed on the novel. One is getting surfeited with vamps by now, yea verily, even beyond surfeited, though they will never be surfeited therefore vamps will never go away, but always rise again.
Good grief, even the perfectly pretty people of The Vampire Diaries Season 2 were tiresome, but then season 2 wasn't as interesting and was more formulaic than Season 1. Yes indeedy, we must have werewolves and the oldest vampire blahblahblah -- the best thing was Caroline, even though she got turned, but she's a good vampire and it improved her personality a thousand-fold. The second best thing was this is a small southern town and public-minded activities that corral all the high school students are held every weekend, and when they are not do-good events, then they celebrate the history of the town and its local power elite families. Students participate as labor in these activities instead of attending classes and learning things. Ayup -- that is a realistic small southern community. At least now we know what makes a good girl good -- and that's why Elena is the goodest of good girls, even though she sexes it up with a vamp -- she doesn't want to be a vamp herself! But I digress.
It was clear there was a vampire in ye Blade immediately, and I was disappointed for this made me suspicious that here was another novel - series like Twelve: (2009) The Danilov Quintet: Book 1, by Jasper Kent, which has vampires eating Moscow during the Napoleonic invasion, except this is Venice and the 15th century. The two books do have a lot of similarities, including way too much of rape, but Grimwood is the more skilled writer, the more entertaining writer; not for him the error of writing a whole fantasy series in a first person narrator - point of view, and his pacing pulls you along. His female characters are a varied lot, but even the less than secondaries are people -- you see them, you feel for them and with them. Nor do they utter the formulaic l dumbass lines that pass these days for wit and witty repartee. Plus, he gives you a surprise when you need one, instead of your expectation of "O yeah, here we go again, the same formula."
Venice and the Renaissance Mediterranean, and mercatile adventurers and Turks and all the rest are more colorful and fun than Moscow, winter and famine, so that's not a fair comparison perhaps. Another element these two books have in common, which is a positive thing, when it comes to fantasy: both authors firmly anchored their tales in our historical world, with their accompanying locations and events. This is why they aren't the kind of tasteless cardboard that a lot of secondary world fantasy can be. There is a solid foundation for the fiction that allows for a depth of field that I at least, really miss in most secondary fantasy that supposedly is made up whole cloth. But then, alternate historical fantasies anchored by our world, have their own problems too, many a time and in a many a way. Again, distracted!
To be honest, the Blade's ending was a little hard to swallow -- after all water hurts Tycho, and he wasn't wearing his Special Boots with earth in the soles, and even at the beginning when he escapes into the water, that didn't seem to hurt him -- but let's not let continuity get in our way -- or even facts, as in Avatar: The Last Air Bender, at the South Pole, and all those women in their made-of snow villages keep feeding wood to their village fire ... wood. Where did they get wood in Penguinlandia? When did Antarctica get a population of humans? The program's preamble for those who are just seeing the current episode and not what's gone before, has a map of the world that is all islands -- and even the use of "Avatar," that seems lifted from Earthsea -- or am I mis-remembering Earthsea? Another distraction! Nevermind, it's a cute kids' show, and it's fantasy, so we don't need to be hyper-factual here.
I was so buzzed from last night I couldn't sleep even though it was 3 AM, so I stayed up and finished Blade. I was sorry I didn't have the second one right now, and it is seldom I feel that way about a series these days. Yes, I recommend this one, whereas Twelve and its first person narrator in particular is dreary.
But Blade and Twelve cleared up what I've been trying to figure out about the hype of the New! Improved! Edgy! Gritty! Realistic! fantasy -- what do they mean? What they mean is that we can debase, demean and rape women -- and TORTURE TOO! -- to our hearts content because we're keepin' it real here in our fantasy worlds. O dear. I'm wondering what the next New! Improved! Not Like What Went Before Us! fantasy will be. Probably fantasy reviewers can tell us.