The Exiled Blade, the last book in Jon Courtenay Grimwood‘s Assassini trilogy, was published about a year ago, in April 2013. I had it on pre-order, like all of Grimwood’s books, but for reasons previously mentioned didn’t get around to read it until now.
The trilogy is set up to tell the tale of how classical vampires came to be, and how they came to the particular corner of Europe they are associated with in particular, and start when, as told in The Fallen Blade, a nameless boy-creature arrives in Venice. The boy is soon given the name Tycho and is recruited into the Assassini – the secret police, if you so will, of post-Marco Polo Venice – and is soon embroiled in court politics. The story continues in The Outcast Blade.
I was sceptic on the outset. Vampires and the supernatural and fantastical is not high on my list – rather it is an exception when I enjoy such tales.
The two first instalments surprised me – I really did enjoy reading them, and also I felt Grimwood had matured somewhat as an author: I love much of his work but many of the books are a bit to speculative, I feel, and he has had a tendency to repeat imagery and scenes. With the Assassini trilogy he has continued working with an alternate history setting but this time working with the far past rather than with alternate endings of the latest world war, and with good result. At least in the two first instalments.
Sadly I don’t feel it kept up in the last part. Up until The Exiled Blade interest and emotional investment in the main characters drove the story but with this last part he needed to tell a story, not develop characters. The result is a tale that in parts dragged, in parts were so festooned with fantastical deux ex machina turning points that I soon lost belief in the credibility of the story. The main event, in many ways, is when the half-realised vampire-creature that Tycho is are more or less pressed into making a pact with the actual devil, albeit a pre-Christian one – a pact that essentially makes him into a Dracula creature, and placing him in a castle/fortress high up in the Balkan mountains. The price he pays to keep the heir to the Venetian throne, and the heir’s mother, the love of Tyhco’s life, alive is to live forever, but without her.
The trilogy is not badly written. If you enjoy vampire stories and stories of the supernatural and fantastical, and of 15th century Venice and court plot, all in one package – then this is definitely a trilogy I’d recommend. For me, though, it didn’t entirely cut it.
On to other books!