#SPFBO 8 The Hidden Blade by Marie M Mullany: Review

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What is SPFBO? Check out Mark Lawrence’s post here to look at this year’s entrants, judges and allocations list.

I am teaming up again with the ladies from The Critiquing Chemist.

HiddenBlade

Today I am posting the first of five reviews for the books that I rolled forward (see my feedback posts for batch No.1, 2 and 3).  All told I carried forward five books, The Hidden Blade by Marie M. Mullany, The Blood of Crows by Alex C Pierce, Scarlight by Evid Marceau, Between Ink and Shadows by Melissa Wright and Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons by Quenby Olson and over the next few days I will review each book in the order I read them.

So, without further ado here’s my review for The Hidden Blade by Marie M Mullany:

The Hidden Blade is a well thought out fantasy with strong world building and a carefully crafted plot involving an assassin sent into a fraught political situation that could ultimately cause the Empire conflict.

As the story begins we read of the Duke of Etendulat, killed during a hunt.  He leaves no heir and of course the wolves are circling, the desire for power and land being a morsel too tasty to ignore.  Tensions are fraught and civil war hangs in the balance.  Amongst the contenders is Baron Tybalt, an ambitious man whose name has been linked to the dark magic known as Sang Sorcellerie.  Now, sent into the mix we have Louis.  Commanded to apprise the situation.  Much more than an assassin, Louis is clever with magic, a master of disguises and cunning in the art of manipulation.

I think the first thing that really struck me about the story was the strength of the world building and the way information is parsed to the reader so easily.   The author has beautifully crafted a well thought out world, an empire with Duchies and nobles, barons and merchants, all feeding into the wealth of the places. Somfaux is, in spite of its size, a town but it is one of strategic importance as its barge routes transport goods throughout the empire.  On top of this we have well thought out ideas in relation to magic, religion, everyday terms and expressions and the passage of time and how it is tracked.  These are all subtly woven into the everyday occurences that take place in such a way that they eventually help to build a clear picture of the place and people without the need for burdensome expositions.  I would also mention at this point that there is a glossary at the back of the book which is really helpful and deserving of a read.

The characters. Well chiefly we interact with Louis, at least for the earlier part of the story as he works his way around Somfaux, using a variety of different personas and spreading sedition and unrest.  Louis is a spy in the camp.  His different disguises, which he dons using a variety of hats and magic to slightly alter his appearance, slowly work their way around the place interacting with different people, farmers, merchants, beggars, members of the dyer’s guild, etc. Basically, Louis is stirring up trouble, starting rumours all whilst looking further into the comings and goings of the Baron.  The other two characters are a barmaid called Nina who strikes up a relationship with Louis (although this starts out on a more transactional basis originally and a way for Nina to supplement her income) and a young chevalier called Falk who Louis decides to take under his wing after he helps him out of a tight spot.

The plot.  It moves at a good pace.  This isn’t the sort of story with epic battles or monsters wreaking havoc.  It feels much more subtle but there is a good sense of place established and the ending itself leaves the door open for the next book.

In terms of criticisms.  I think the story could have used a little more interaction with other characters, although I do appreciate that Louis works mainly alone, the issue is that the story ends up being very Louis focused and whilst he’s an interesting character I would have liked some more solid action with deeper characters.  Also, I didn’t really buy into the relationship with Louis and NIna, it felt more of a device to move the plot in a certain direction and was a little clunky.

Slight reservations aside I found this very easy to get along with. It’s a well developed world and an interesting story that promises a different landscape and characters in the next instalment.

I received a copy courtesy of the author for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

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