Thursday, May 29, 2014

AWWC 2014: The Lascar's Dagger by Glenda Larke

It seems to be the season for books about magical daggers. No sooner had I finished Satima Flavell's The Dagger of Dresnia than I had a phone call from Dymocks to say one of my book requests, Glenda Larke's The Lascar's Dagger, was in. I was lucky enough to attend a kaffeeklatsch with Glenda at Conflux last year where she told us a little about the background of how she came to be writing this book. It sounded fascinating so I had been waiting anxiously for it to come in. Here are my thoughts on it.

The Lascar's Dagger is Book 1 of The Forsaken Lands trilogy.

This was an enthralling read for me. While there is plenty of action and drama this is only part of the story. It's also about court intrigue, what happens when people are caught up in events outside their control and how they act and react when difficult choices are forced on them.

The book opens with a young man, Ardhi (the lascar of the title), racing to try to avert a tragedy. He fails and the repercussions spread wide, far beyond his home in the Summer Islands. His task of retrieving a stolen treasure becomes more complicated when the magical dagger he is to use as his guide abandons him for Saker, a witan or priest who is also a spy for the Pontifect, head of the Va faith.

These are dangerous times. The old beliefs with their links to nature are under threat, the horror of the horned death is spreading while exploration in search of the Spicerie for spice trade has already brought the merchants into conflict with the people of the Summer Islands. All this threatens to destabilise the world and lead to war and the Pontifect needs to keep informed. With instructions not to draw attention to himself Saker is sent as a spiritual advisor to the prince and princess of Ardrone but despite his efforts he can't avoid trouble. There is much more danger at the court than anyone expects.

In Saker we have a flawed man who tries to do good but doesn't always succeed. He takes his priestly responsibilities seriously (even if he sometimes fails to live up to them) but is also as susceptible as anyone else to being manipulated - and there are many manipulators from the dagger itself, many of the Ardronese court and the religious leaders to mention only a few. It's hardly surprising he struggles and fails at times but his ability to grow and learn - and he has a lot to learn - all goes to make him a realistic character.

There are other characters I really liked too. Sorrel Redwing, herself a victim of tragedy and handmaiden to Princess Matilda, was one. She never shirks what has to be done, intelligently using her witchery - a magical skill - and not blindly accepting what she is told. It's a pleasure to see a woman character whose strength doesn't come from carrying a sword but from doing what has to be done, however hard, with the minimum of fuss.

I also liked Saker's boss, the Pontifect. She is a woman who knows her own mind and with the responsibility for the well being of the religion she needs every bit of her intelligence.

But it's not only the women who are strong and well drawn. Saker and Ardhi are not the only male characters. There are others like Lord Juster, a privateer, who befriends and supports Saker at the Ardronese court and Prince Ryce, Princess Matilda's brother, who also has hard lessons to learn.

The opposing players didn't disappoint either. From the vicious Prime, to the rulers of Ardrone and Lowmeer and the spice merchants they are all rounded and well drawn characters with compelling motivations ranging from self interest to greed. They may not be "nice" but they are all believable.

I really enjoyed this book, particularly the steady, well paced build up of tension, the complexity of the plot and the creativity of the world building. The author excels at creating rich and believable worlds and societies and this one is nicely layered, with religion, economics, politics and magic all combined to make a cohesive whole.

I found The Lascar's Dagger an engrossing read and I'm looking forward to the next book in the trilogy  which is due out early in 2015.

The Lascar's Dagger was published by Orbit in 2014 and, with other books by Glenda Larke, is available in Australia as a paperback from Dymocks book stores, Fishpond and Booktopia as well as The Book Depository and independent booksellers. It is also available as an ebook.

Glenda Larke's website is here and she is also on Facebook.

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