Note: On review lo these years later I have to admit that this is one of my less-coherent reviews. Which is too bad, because the book really is good.
I met Lane Robins a couple of years ago in a writing workshop. I was strongly encouraged by others there that I should read Maledicte, but someone else in the workshop bought the last copy from the university book store, so I had to wait. It’s been a while now but I finally got around to ordering the book through Amazon and reading it.
I’m not going to give this book a great review because I know the author; I’m going to give this book a great review because I genuinely liked it. Not everyone may be comfortable with this book, but it’s a really rewarding read. (My bias toward the author is manifested in that If I didn’t like the book I just wouldn’t review it.)
First, hats off for the publisher, who created a striking volume with great cover art and a substantial feel. I’ll be ordering a Kindle in the near future, but this book’s physical presence adds to the experience. It’s a pleasure to hold.
At the heart of this story is a love triangle. It’s a very complicated love triangle, between very dangerous people. Maledicte is a beautiful young man in blind pursuit of vengeance against one of the most powerful people in the land. Maledicte is also a young woman from the slums of the city who will do anything to be reunited with her childhood sweetheart. Toward both ends Maledicte has been granted power from a god long thought dead, manifested in a black-bladed rapier — ever sharp, ever quick to hand, ready to spill blood. When his vengeance is complete, Maledicte will have a price to pay.
In his pursuit of vengeance Maladicte finds a powerful ally, and the servant of the lecherous old man forms the second point on the triangle. For a while as their relationship developed I found it difficult to understand why Gilly put up with Maledicte at all. “Here we go again,” I thought to myself, “another petulant rage by Maledicte.” Gilly is thoroughly convinced that Maledicte is male, and he’s a damn unpleasant person to be around most of the time. There is a moment when that changes, a brief, candid conversation that provides a glimpse into the human being behind the horrible mask. After that things made a lot more sense. Just in time, too, because the body count is about to start climbing.
Gilly is troubled that he is attracted to a man, but there’s not much he can do about it, except run away to distant shores and start over. He’s not ready to resort to that, yet, though as time passes he finds himself getting drawn deeper into the web of death and intrigue, his own hands getting bloodied even as he recoils in horror.
The third point on the triangle is Janus, Maledicte’s old flame, also from the slums and every bit as dangerous as Maledicte. He is the bastard child of the man Maledicte wants to kill; Janus just wants to make sure that death furthers his own goals. Where Maledicte kills to further his plans for vengeance, Janus is driven by ambition. He is subtle, seemingly an easygoing young man, only slowly revealing the depths and intricacies of his plotting. Calling him evil would miss the point; his affection for Maledicte is genuine, and he will sacrifice for her. But if that sacrifice means killing people and becoming one of the most powerful men in the land, well, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette.
In this story Robins asks us to like some pretty unlikeable folks. There are no angels between these pages, and good people die. Also, bad people die. I was unable to sympathize with Maledicte at all for a while; to the point where it started to get in the way. Once I got the glimmer of light from Maledicte’s soul, I was completely on board. Heinous acts and atrocities begin to pile up (the royal court is not a pleasant place), and because we can see Maledicte through Gilly’s eyes, and we see that the victims are rarely innocent themselves, we can still pull for our heroes.
All three of the characters are able to surprise us, and all are realistic — if in twisted ways — as are the supporting cast. The machinations of the court are laid out so naturally that thinking back I’m surprised to realize how complex it all was. There were a couple of background issues that didn’t help the story (Antimachinists, for instance), that are probably there to set up another story but got in the way here. That’s a quibble, though.
Love, hate, revenge, duty, despair, jealousy, and downright crazy all take their turns pulling on the strings of the characters, and what’s really great about this book is that you feel it – even the crazy. This book is both atmospheric and visceral, and doesn’t pull it’s punches. You are right there with everyone else. It’s a good ride.
Note: if you use the above link to buy this excellent book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.