Epic fantasy isn’t my absolute favourite sub-genre, but what caught my eye about this offering is that it is written in Russian and translated by Andrew Bromfield, who was also responsible for translating the enjoyable Night Watch series by Sergei Lukyanenko. It is always a refreshing change to find speculative fiction written from outside the Western perspective.
An army is gathering thousands of fell creatures joining forces from all across the Desolate Lands, united for the first time in history under one black banner. By the spring, or perhaps sooner, the Nameless One and his forces will be at the walls of the great city of Avendoom. Unless Shadow Harold, master thief, can stop them.
As is apparent from the back cover blurb, there isn’t a stunningly original setup in this adventure – what makes it stand out is the protagonist and first person narrator, Harold. I particularly enjoyed the early part of the book, where we follow Harold’s escapades around the city of Avendoom. The voice is strong, quirky and more than a tad subversive. The adventure into the magical wasteland of Avendoom is filled with tension and incident – while Harold leaps off the page. However, as the story gathers pace and Harold is caught up in the machinations of the Nameless One, this originality somewhat fades.
What replaces it is Pehov’s interesting take on the other races. Maybe I’ve spent too much time painting Warhammer miniatures, but I was fascinated by his worldbuilding – in his version, the Orcs are the original race that regard themselves as the Master Race and everyone else who came after them as subverted rejects who need to expunged from the face of the Earth… Fanged elves take some getting used to, as well. Other than that, the story follows fairly standard fare – there is a certain artefact that Harold needs to acquire in order to allow the Elves, Goblins and Humans to stand a chance against the Orcs. So – guess what? He sets off with a small party of handpicked companions to hunt it down… As cosy and familiar as a patchwork quilt. The book ends on a cliffhanger, just as Harold has to face the challenge. So… would I bother to pick up the sequel?
Actually, yes I would. I found Harold an interesting and amusing protagonist and whether it is the Russian dimension or not, there is a range of subtle interplay between the rest of the party – particularly the court jester Kli Kli, the other standout character – which makes me want to know what happens next.