Tuesday, 17 March 2015

The Last Quarrel by Duncan Lay

The Last Quarrel by Duncan Lay is the first book in a new trilogy, set in the same world as his other series but in different countries (and I think chronologically later, although I'm less sure when it comes to the Dragon Sword Histories). It is being released in five "episodes", with the final episode due out in a couple of weeks and the collected volume (ie all of book one of the trilogy) due out in late April. This is a review of the full volume, although I also posted a brief review of episode one a few days ago.
In the country, fishing boats return with their crews mysteriously vanished, while farms are left empty, their owners gone into the night, meals still on the table. In the cities, children disappear from the streets or even out of their own beds. The King tells his people that it is the work of selkies – mythical creatures who can turn from seals into men and back again – and witches. But no matter how many women he burns at the stake, the children are still being taken.

Fallon is a man who has always dreamed of being a hero. His wife Bridgit just wants to live in peace and quiet, and to escape the tragedies that have filled her life. His greatest wish and her worst nightmare are about to collide.

When an empty ship sails into their village, he begins to follow the trail towards the truth behind the evil stalking their land. But it is a journey that will take them both into a dark, dark place and nobody can tell them where it might end …
I had the luxury of not having to wait for the next episode to come out when I was reading this, since I got review copies of the whole lot in one go. To me this felt like an ordinary novel, albeit one where I had to change files every 250ish iPad pages. I didn't detect any modifications to the flow of the novel to account for the episode structure. The episode breaks came at the ends of chapters (of course) and while they were mild cliffhangers, they weren't any more cliffhanging than chapters normally are. To me it was the usual frustration of waiting to get back to the hanging point of view. But enough about structure, what about the book?

The early parts of The Last Quarrel has two point of view characters, which expand to three later on. There's the Crown Prince, who seems to be the only nice person among the nobility in the capital city. Along with his two offsiders — body guard and scribe/advisor/can't remember his official title — he quickly realises that the weird stuff is going on is not supernatural and tries to get to the bottom of it.

Not believing in a supernatural cause for the trouble is something the prince shares with the other main character, Fallon. Fallon starts off as a village sergeant, the only proper soldier around, and when the county's Duke disappears off his ship in a Marie Celeste situation, he takes it upon himself to investigate. He becomes increasingly convinced that people are behind a slew of mysterious disappearances, but few other people in power agree with him. He does catch the eye of both the Duchess and the Crown Prince, signalling a rise in his fortunes.

There aren't a lot of female characters in The Last Quarrel, but those that do exist are fleshed out proper people with agency. They also happen to become more important as the book progresses. For example, Fallon's wife, Bridgit, starts off without much of a roll beyond mother and wife. But her character has depth, initially in the form of a lot of anxieties. Her fears have a basis but they are a little frustrating since their purpose appears to be to slow down the plot. However, when the plot catches up with Bridgit she gets a chance to come out of her shell of anxiety and over-protectiveness (of her son) and really shine. I was pretty ambivalent about her character until events conspired to give her her own point of view sections. (I'd go into more details, but spoilers.)

Fans of Lay's might be wondering if his theme of having male characters in strong parental roles continues in this series. The short answer is: it does. It takes a little while for Fallon's relationship with his son to become central to the story, but when it does, Lay presents us with yet another type of father-child relationship.

Finally, I found the end a bit frustrating. Honestly, it was more of a cliffhanger than any of the episode breaks. But also, the "twist" contained (in full) in the last few pages was kind of obvious to me and I was annoyed that the relevant character fell for it. And then of course being the ending there were no pages left to explore ramifications. Gah! When does book 2 come out? Hopefully we won't have to wait too long.

So, is The Last Quarrel worth reading? Absolutely. If you're a Duncan Lay or BFF (big fat fantasy) fan then I highly recommend it. It took a little while for me to get far enough into it to really start enjoying myself (the opening wasn't bad, it was just more fun once the plot got into the swing of things). If you've read one or two episodes and are undecided about continuing, I would urge you to do so. The book improves, and the cast broadens, as it goes along. I think that's a danger in episode-ising a BFF novel. If the set up isn't super gripping then readers might be lost along the way. Compared with readers who might feel obliged to keep going if they bought the novel in full, and then end up enjoying it. So I'm not sold on the concept but I am sold on the novel and this new series of Duncan Lay's.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: Episode One from January, Episode Five March, Complete Edition April, 2015, Momentum Books 
Series: Yes. Book 1 of 3 (not sure what the trilogy names is, but apparently book two will be called The Bloody Quarrel)
Format read: eARC
Source: Courtesy of the publisher

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