Drakenfeld, by Mark Charan Newton
One of the things I love about picking up new books is finding an author I’ve never read before and really enjoying what s/he has written. When I was given the chance to get my hands on an ARC of Drakenfeld then, I grabbed the opportunity to check out an author I’d barely heard of before, let alone read. Fantasy-crime is a hybrid genre that’s pretty much new to me, I’ve previously read Simon R Green’s Hawk and Fisher novels but that’s basically it unless we also count the City Watch portion of my Discworld library. This is a genre that presents a real opportunity to make the reader think, and sometimes that can be missing in the realm of fantasy.
Drakenfeld is a nice easy-going read – it’s not the sort of book to grab you by the lapels and drag you on a fast-paced rollercoaster ride, it’s more like the friendly arm around your shoulder, guiding you through the twists and turns of the narrative. I’m not by any means suggesting that Drakenfeld is slow-paced, I think it’s about right, picking up speed at all the right times and sucking you in to the point that the pages turn quickly and easily.
I thought the main stumbling block for me here would be that Drakenfeld is written in the first person, which is definitely not my preference. This didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book in the slightest, and the style worked well here with the story we’re following, allowing a natural access to the thought processes of our protagonist as he tries to solve an apparently impossible crime.
The crime itself is a classic murder mystery but it’s the ‘who’ and the ‘why’ that provide more intrigue than the ‘how’ we spend a fair amount of time puzzling over. When that little chestnut is cracked it’s almost a little disappointing in its simplicity, but the other two aspects make up for it, and the cleverness of a second major death is the icing on the cake. There’s plenty of room for making your own assumptions, but I did find it a little odd how one key player I suspected almost from the start was never even suggested as a potential suspect in Lucan Drakenfeld’s investigation. Perhaps I missed something there, or perhaps it was just my suspicious mind trying to beat Drakenfeld to solving the murder.
The characters and the world they’re in are as well fleshed out as the story they’re a part of. We’re shown the world when we need to see it, allowing it to grow and develop well as we become more deeply engrossed in the story. Newton draws on classical Roman times for inspiration and even to someone who isn’t well versed in the era, it’s influence is apparent in the world we’re shown here. Filling this world is a cast that is likeable, varied and for the most part three-dimensional, although I felt there could have been more emotional response from our main character following certain events. If that’s my only real criticism though, I don’t think I can complain too much.
Overall, Drakenfeld was a very enjoyable read, with a clever plot and intrigue that builds as the pages turn. New twists are added just as you start to feel comfortable with where the story is going, easily keeping your attention until the final page. If the follow up books are to be as good as Drakenfeld is, Mark Charan Newton will have to pull out some very clever storytelling. On this showing, I’d say he has the ability to manage it too.
Overall: A well-paced and intelligent read that shows there’s life in the fantasy-crime genre.
Dominish rating: 78%