Reviews: Exciting new fantasy with The Boy With The Porcelain Blade
I confess from the outset it was no desire for historical accuracy that drew me to this new book; it was rather the blurb on the cover describing the short life of eighteen-year-old Lucian de Fontein, the lead character, which grabbed my attention. How cool does that sound I thought to myself (although my own inner monologue is light years from the planet cool), it sound as though the Borgia family have moved into Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast in order to Live their La Vida Loca to the full. Den Patrick’s book and all its swarthy storytelling promise did not disappoint (although I have found my vaguely wibbly wobbly Northern Irish internal logic keeps switching his surname with his Christian name to Patrick Den which seems to please my notion of grammar Ulsterman Stylee).
It is a fast paced novel, economically layered but deceptively detailed. I found the character descriptions and locations exceptionally realised as I flew through the story in what felt like shared real time, a narrative illusion of course as we are actually bouncing back and forward along the said short life of its central character Lucien. I say short life only because he has just reached the age of eighteen, not because the book is some deathbed memoir. It truly is a fast read, its chapters short in length but surprisingly dense in involving content. The fractured time line of this troubled young man involves as much sword-play as word play with one aspect razor sharp and the other just as cutting. I mention Gormenghast not as some lazy literary reference or a familiar sound-bite to draw a curious reader in, I genuinely feel its influence at play, but there is much more youthful gusto in the writing. Something that is absent in Peake’s work, but clearly comes through in Den Patrick’s writing.
I misread the novel arch subtitle, The Erebus Sequence, missing the word trilogy and I did falter slightly upon picking this up. Not really wishing to commit to a sequence of books as opposed to a trilogy or even the increasingly popular duology, Boom,Boom. I was glad I was not put off by this notion as The Boy With The Porcelain Blade proved to be a rewarding diversion. As I suggested at the beginning the many details in the book may not be construed as historically accurate but the book works on so many other levels. There is a dark secret at the heart of this dreaming kingdom, one that will propel the reader further into the events sure to follow. The necessary foundations and solid brickwork of this first novel in the sequence are firmly laid by the end of this one. Lucien de Fontein is an earless foundling, abandoned on the steps of wealthy patrons who seek to raise an in-house assassin as only the insane and very wealthy are wont to try.
This is definitely a book for people who enjoy their fantasyscapes to be ones of youthful exuberance and edited at break-neck speed, with a flair for dramatic leaps and arcs, and the cod-renaissance of the re-imagined Italy owes more to games like Assassin’s Creed than the work of DaVinci or Michelangelo. Yet it is a fantasy landscape shot through with such excitement and energy you cannot help but go along with it.
Lead on Den Patrick, here is one reader who will follow wherever the porcelain blade should point.