Peter Morwood’s third novel is another adventure featuring Aldric Talvalin, the last lord of an ancient line, currently wandering the lands of his king’s enemies acting as part spy, part knight errant. And where the first two books hinted at the machinations going on behind the scenes, this novel actively ramps them up, making the reader realise just how much of an important piece the young nobleman is, despite believing that he is a mere pawn on a continent-sized gameboard.
He finds himself reluctantly drafted into the army of the Drusalan Empire, enemies of his native land of Alba to perform a covert service that pushes the bounds of his honour and the interests of his king. He is also under threat of execution from his king and in the company of Voord, whose plans he thwarted in The Demon Lord, second in this series. Things are looking grim for Aldric. But he has friends where he least expects them…
This is really a bit of a hoot: it mixes intrigue, spycraft, swordplay and the arch commentary on fantasy clichés that I enjoyed from the first two books. Here Aldric reflects bitterly that he’s being asked to rescue a noblewoman from an impregnable fortress – a princess, he realises, being held captive in a tower….
There’s also a dragon, and a cameo that made my heart sing when I first read it because it was the second appearance by this (real) person (one of my favourite authors at the time) in a novel that I’d read in about three months. It’s cleverly done, though, and even helps to push a few ideas and themes along, which is even better. More interesting, though, are the hints of the genre blending that Aldric’s adopted father Gemmel brings to the table.
What really makes it, though, is the sense of fun that you get from it: after the grimness with occasional humour we were given in the first two volumes we get a much more confident and laconic story that still manages to lose none of the tone or urgency of plot. And you get a real, organic sense of the world widening around Aldric. The confident worldbuilding and plotting also helps: while it tells a small story and crosses only a small patch of land on the map given at the front of the book you are given a genuinely interesting glimpse at the subtle steps and tiny transgressions that plotting leaders on the constant knife-edge of war are prepared to take in order to maintain the status quo or to gain any kind of advantage. Aldric is a blunt instrument in this continuing war of small nicks and minor wounds against national pride and he resents it but puts up with it as a necessary sacrifice for the sake of his honour.
And Aldric’s honour is really what is at stake here. His commitment to doing the right thing at any cost gets him into any amount of trouble but also delivers him from evil on more than one occasion. There’s also an ending that might have served as a conclusion for the series were it not for the fact that we know that Aldric has one last task to fulfill…
You can find out more about Peter Morwood at https://petermorwood.tumblr.com/