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Review: The Fallen Blade, Jon Courtenay Grimwood

Venice in the early fifteenth century is a nest of scandal. The titular Duke does not actually rule; instead, his mother, the Duchess Alexa, rules for him with her brother-in-law, the much-despised Alonzo. They’ve conspired to wed their niece, Giulietta, to the King of Cyprus, conveniently ignoring the fact that she’s not interested. Meanwhile, Tycho, a pale man who can’t stand the sun and has supernatural strength, awakens in the hold of a ship, bound with silver chains. When he is released, he runs into the head of the Assassini, an association of assassins. Their numbers have decreased drastically and said leader is aging. He immediately conscripts Tycho into training, not caring what his reasons for avoiding the sun are, merely doing his best to protect Venice in this troubled time.

Despite the appealing nature of this book – full of politics, darkness, and supernatural beings – I had a difficult time getting into it. It’s received positive reviews across the internet, so apparently I am an anomaly, but I found the book too dark, and much too sexual and bloody for my personal liking. This probably fits with the nature of it, but is difficult to take and often felt like an unnecessary add-on. Moreover, the book’s plot moves very quickly. Usually, with a book like this, it’s fine to be tossed right in the mix of things, and get a grip as you move on and finally figure out who people are and what’s going on. The problem with this one was that I never really felt I had a handle on what was happening.

What I did like was the atmosphere in general and the setting. Historical Venice with magic – I could hardly ask for more. Grimwood sets the scene very well and is a master at descriptive language. The magical aspects seem to sit perfectly within the historical context, so this part of the book at least was easy to sink into. The battle scenes were also well done, and were among the few times I actually felt compelled to continue reading.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get on with the characters either. The plot moves so quickly that we flit between a variety of them, never really caring about any of them. Worse, by the end quite a few of them are dead – but because I was never attached to any of them, this produced none of the emotional impact that it should have done. The book left me with the feel that I should have enjoyed it more, given its positive points and its very appealing plotline. For others who are in the mood for a speedy political read in a fantastic setting, I suspect The Fallen Blade would suit better.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free for review from Netgalley.

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