Saturday, March 22, 2014

Review: Talus and the Frozen King

A few words about a fun little (pre-)historical fantasy book I just read.

One sentence review:  A neolithic Sherlock takes us on a fun and fast paced adventure in a world before words like "justice" even existed.

I got on the mailing list of Solaris books, and they were kind enough to send me an e-ARC of this title for perusal. For a nice little summary, here is the publisher's blurb:


Solaris Books™ is a trademark or registered trademark used by or under the licence of the Rebellion Group or its associated companies.

Talus and the Frozen King by
Graham Edwards

Meet the world’s first detective on 26th March (US & Canada) and 10th April (UK)

 £7.99 (UK)
 ISBN 978-1-78108-198-3

$8.99/$10.99 (US & CAN)
 ISBN 978-1-7810-8-199-0

Available in paperback and ebook
“A close cousin to the writings of Conan Doyle, Christie, and Marsh... Mystery fans  will look forward to Talus’s future investigations.” – Publisher’s Weekly 
3000 BC: A dead warrior king frozen in winter ice. Six grieving sons, each with his own reason to kill. Two weary travellers caught up in a web of suspicion and deceit. Meet Talus – the Bronze Age Detective!  
Even at the dawn of society, murder is an ancient habit. But Talus is the first man who understands that  the identity of an unknown killer can be found, if you can start asking the right questions.  
Neither historical fantasy nor crime fiction has ever seen anything like Talus before – a wandering bard  who, with his companion Bran, journey to the island realm of Creyak, where the king has been murdered.  From clues scattered among the island’s mysterious barrows and stone circles, they begin their search for  his killer. Nobody is above suspicion, from the king’s heir to the tribal shaman, from the woman steeped in herb-lore to the visiting warlord. And when death strikes again, it will take a clever man indeed to unravel  the truth. The kind of man this ancient world has not seen before.  
Edwards brings a unique character to the world of crime fiction while blending myth, legend, and fantasy  into a rich tapestry about a bright light amidst humanity’s darkest dawn. 
(NB: The blurb says it's bronze-age, but is most decidedly stone age, specifically late Neo-lithic. There is no metalwork...just saying.)

For my take, it's a really fun little read. Talus is no Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, but he has a certain endearing reality to him. Instead of relying on scientific observation, or his "little brain cells" he seems to understand people-and the author implies that Talus' very identity as a storyteller helps him in this, with his fundamental grasp of human motivations and reactions, while he himself seems somewhat distant from his own humanity.

The writing is well-crafted, without all the intrusive pitfalls that so often throw me off. The pacing is tight, and there are none of the dreaded infodumps that so plague spec fiction. The characters are consistent and believable, despite their existence in a reality so far removed from our own. I enjoyed the book quite a lot. For some reason I was under the impression that this was Mr. Edwards' first novel so I was VERY impressed, but then I actually took the time to research him and it turns out he's been a professional writer for some time, so it turns out I was reading someone who knows what he's doing.

The mystery portion of the story is deftly handled, though not perhaps at the levels of Christie or Marsh, as the publishers implied. It is sensible, revealed naturally, and satisfying in solution, though not excessively surprising. It's an engaging part of the story, but perhaps not as deep as a true crime fiction fan might hope for.

Now, the book is a fun, decently written adventure. It's not a deep glimpse into the vagaries of human emotion, it's not an artful revery on being and time. It's aimed at the fantasy lover with a taste for history and/or crime fiction, not someone looking for a philosophical challenge.

In short, I'd give it 3.5 stars out of 5, and a "give it a try!" recommendation.

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