This second volume in a series explores the war between Elves and humans in the realms of the Verin Empire.
The latest from Ray (Gedlund, 2014) continues the broad outline of his debut novel while striking a different register. In a switch from high fantasy to gumshoe mystery (and in a shift to nearly 10 years after the incidents in the first installment), the narrative this time focuses on the character Gus Baston, a wayward private eye in the bustling city of Gemmen. Gus is dodging his memories of the events of the previous book (“The war against Gedlund’s armies of grasping dead and the chilling laughter of its Everlords as they descended from the sky”). He goes from one paying job to the next, drowning his memories in alcohol amid Gemmen’s nightlife. When Gus takes a new case that eventually embroils him in the kidnapping of a prominent engineer, he’s thrust into the complicated and dangerous politics of insurrection. The Elves of the Verin Empire seek their return to power in the Great Restoration, an event long thwarted by the proliferating human use of magic-negating iron in ever expanding railway systems and obelisks. It seems that after a generation of quiet, the Elven Wardens have emerged to kidnap the key engineer of the system slowly strangling their future. The rich fantasy world Ray introduced in the series opener, a fun-house-mirror blending of Victorian-era technology and sword-and-sorcery staples like elves and magic, is here steadily and very skillfully elaborated. The author’s ear for dramatic stagecraft succeeds in bringing his large cast of secondary characters to life. Fans of detailed alternate-urban fantasies like the New Crobuzon tales of China Miéville should enjoy the ways Ray fleshes out the rich palaces and mean streets of both the city of Gemmen and the far frontiers where the larger background themes of empires in conflict and colonialism play out. This is intricate fantasy work in a minor key.
A vibrant, fast-paced, and tense fusion of epic fantasy and hard-boiled detective yarn.