Supercolossal New Age fantasy set in 1537 Venice. The three authors are known for their various fantasy series written solo or in permutations of togetherness (Lackey for the Heralds of Valdemar and Bardic Voices series, at times with Larry Dixon or Andre Norton—Owlflight, 1997, with Dixon; Flint for his military and alternate history SF, often with David Drake—Fortune’s Stroke, 2000; and Freer for his noirish, smile-worthy comedy Rats, Bats & Vats, 2000—all of them sizey works). Did it take a trio to carry this novel this particular distance? In any event, it was a wise choice, since every page shows solid research and style that owes nothing to the banalities and false pearls usually strung together in fat, churned-out, formula fantasies. Erik Hakkonen, an Icelander, is called to Mainz by Charles Fredrik Hohenstauffen, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, to be bodyguard and mentor to Charles’s wild-spirited, bedhopping nephew, Prince Manfred, and accompany him on a journey to Venice while preparing the way for the Emperor’s own reception in Venice, a state with its own political peculiarities—as well as harboring some monstrous mages, magicians, and shapeshifters—one of whom, to recover his strength after his head is split open and brain visible, skins alive his own shaman and fries him in slabs in a big frying pan.
Smartly done indeed. Forge/Tor should get fantasists who write with this straightforward strength and avoid broadstrokes through heavy cream.