Farrell (Heir of Stone, 2005, etc.) starts a new series with this agreeable political fantasy, set in a city reminiscent of Renaissance-era Venice.
Over the centuries, the city of Nessantico has conquered most of the surrounding territory. Now, religious fanaticism and social tensions threaten to fracture the patched-together empire as its ruler, the Kraljica Marguerite ca’Ludovici, approaches the 50th year of her glorious reign. Unfortunately, there are those who are too impatient to wait for Marguerite’s natural death, including her son and heir, A’Kralj Justi ca’Mazzak, and the vassal king who commands the bulk of Nessantico’s army, Hïrzg Jan ca’Vörl. Caught between these two combatants are a heretic, a rising cleric with incredible magical power, a general whose duty smothers his conscience, a religious leader who’s playing both sides and a scarred beggar with a hidden and very threatening agenda. Telling the story from multiple perspectives, Farrell (aka Stephen Leigh) attempts to make a fairly direct plot seem more complex than it truly is. Similarly, his invented language sounds artificial. However, the book retains considerable charm and appeal. It’s always refreshing to read a fantasy where neither side in a conflict has much of a moral edge on the other, and the cast of characters is an enjoyable mix of the sympathetic, the villainous and the ambiguous. There’s definite potential here for a satisfying series.
A solid read with ambitions it doesn’t quite reach.