Gritty, stinking, decaying, romantic 16th century almost-Venice – a violent place, brimming over with inbred scheming nobility. Add magic, vampires, werewolves and other supernatural beings and voilà – The Outcast Blade, the second act in Jon Courtenay Grimwood‘s Assassini trilogy.
Meet Tycho, misunderstood by everyone including himself, who finds himself involved in a high-stakes game for the power over Venice. Just because he fell in love with the “wrong” girl. Also meet the girl’s scheming aunt and uncle – the dowager Duchess of Venice and her brother-in-law Prince Alonzo, Regent of Venice – and the game is on.
In so many ways this is standard fantasy fare but the way it is told make it something more – a pre-history to Dracula, it seems, and perhaps a writing exercise for the author; a way to show how vampire teenage angst can be written as literature rather than as fast-food fluff. In this the Assassini books reminds me of Guy G Kay‘s Fionavar trilogy, which in so many ways tried to show how a proper high fantasy trilogy should be done – a polemic work, in all its splendour, and thus with it’s downside; a hectoring tone follows the reader throughout.
Not so, in my opinion, with the two Assassini books.
Grimwood’s prose and his devotion to the texture and smell of the places he describe lift The Outcast Blade above the rhetoric level, making the city and its inhabitants show as on the silver screen before the inner eye, in both affected grandeur and desperate decay, gilded velveteen and utmost poverty.
I definitely liked it and I look forward to act three, which should be out in a year or so.