The Fallen Blade, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

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Publication date – January 27, 2011

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) In the depths of night, customs officers board a galley in a harbor and overpower its guards. In the hold they find oil and silver, and a naked boy chained to the bulkhead. Stunningly beautiful but half-starved, the boy has no name. The officers break the boy’s chains to rescue him, but he escapes.

Venice is at the height of its power. In theory Duke Marco commands. But Marco is a simpleton so his aunt and uncle rule in his stead. They command the seas, tax the colonies, and, like those in power before them, fear assassins better than their own.

In a side chapel, Marco’s fifteen-year old cousin prays for deliverance from her forced marriage. It is her bad fortune to be there when Mamluk pirates break in to steal a chalice, but it is the Mamluks’ good luck – they kidnap her.

In the gardens beside the chapel, Atilo, the Duke’s chief assassin, prepares to kill his latest victim. Having cut the man’s throat, he turns back, having heard a noise, and finds a boy crouched over the dying man, drinking blood from the wound. The speed with which the boy dodges a dagger and scales a wall stuns Atilo. And the assassin knows he has to find the boy.

Not to kill him, but because he’s finally found what he thought he would never find. Someone fit to be his apprentice.

Thoughts: This book roared off to a wonderful start, painting a vivid picture of alternate-history Venice, mixing in the always-intriguing supernatural elements of vampires and werewolves and mysterious magic, adding the spice of assassins and political intrigue and the gritty realism of life in the past.

But after a promising beginning, this book failed to deliver. Grimwood’s talented descriptions were astounding in some areas and completely missing in others, making it so that I had a great mental picture of the architecture and the smell of the street kids, but a poor picture of just what the hell happened with the plot and important characters. Really, when I have to reread a scene three times and even then only have a vague picture of what the author was trying to describe, I know something is seriously lacking. That inconsistancy spoiled the story in some many places.

It was the same thing with characters, too. For instance, when you’ve got a line that amounts to, “Person A would change the life of Person B,” you don’t exactly expect them to vanish in two paragraphs and then not show up again for another quarter of the book, even then for only a short time. A’rial does change Tycho’s life in a dramatic way, but not until the very end of the novel, so when she pops up from time to time to taunt him, it was pretty easy to forget why I was supposed to think she was important in the first place. Things you think are going to be important because people spend a fair amount of time discussing them, such as a glass-blower’s escape, turn out to be dead-ends that never get mentioned again, thus leaving me with the feeling of a dangling plot-point with no resolution.

Tycho was quite an interesting character, I must admit. Seeing him discover the secrets of his past was one of two things that kept me reading (the other thing was seeing what would happen to Giulietta and her child). However, I felt like sometimes this was all written like it as supposed to be an episodic TV show, where the chapter ends with somebody about to explain something important, and then we find out what that important thing is halfway through the next chapter, in the form of a flashback. Potentially interesting to see, mildly annoying to read.

It’s obvious that Grimwood has talent, and that there is potential for this story to shine. When the details were clear, they were stunning. When the characters were in the spotlight, they were fascinating. But the balance faltered, and the execution was off, and that, most of all, was what killed this novel for me. Which is a true shame, considering what a promising start it seemed to have.

If I read the others in this series, it will probably only be for the sake of completion, and even then most likely if I can borrow them from the library. I can see myself being interested in the story, but if Grimwood’s writing style stays the same, then I can’t see myself being eager to wade through another book filled with the same problems evident in this one.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

One comment on “The Fallen Blade, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

  1. After reading so many positive reviews on this story, I'm SO happy to find someone else who had the same opinion as me!! I kept thinking something was missing as well… :)

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