Wednesday 26 March 2014

The Lascar's Dagger by Glenda Larke

The Lascar's Dagger by Glenda Larke is the author's most recent release, and the start of a new trilogy. Glenda Larke has long been on my auto-buy list, so it comes as no surprise that this book was excellent. The blurb is short and sweet but only gives a small hint of what's inside. (Oh, and the handle and guard of the knife on the cover are totally not as described in the book.)
A theft in a faraway land — with repercussions that reach around the world...
The world thinks of Saker Rampion as a priest, a gentle man preaching peace. The truth is, he's a spy for the head of his faith, posted in the court of King Edwayn.

It's a time of fear — as a mysterious and monstrous disease sweeps the country — but also opportunity — lucrative trade is opening up overseas, and what's grown on the Spice Islands is rumored to cure the demonic plague.

However when the king uses his own daughter as a pawn in trade deals, Saker cannot help but get involved. And for his trouble, he may just end up excommunicated, or even dead...
I enjoyed The Lascar's Dagger a lot. It reminded me that, proportionally, I don't read as many complex BFF (big fat fantasy) books as I used to. (This is partially because since becoming a book blogger the increase in my book consumption has been in other genres and partially because I've already read the backlists of the authors I like who write that type of book. Now it's a matter of waiting for them to write more books.) And that I missed them.

The main character is Saker, a clergy spy and not a lascar, which I was expecting. The title is well chosen though, since the lascar's dagger is, in fact, on the page more frequently than the lascar. I was expecting more of this book to be set in the Spice Islands but I think that's coming in the sequel. Most of The Lascar's Dagger was set in the two more "Western" countries. That said, the title is well chosen since the somewhat magic dagger is quite vital as a driver of the plot. And although it wasn't entirely apparent, at first, how all the characters' paths were going to cross, it all came together quite nicely.

The Lascar's Dagger subverts many tropes and expectations. The most obvious one is that the clergy — well, the (western) religious order generally — has more gender equality than general society, especially the nobility. Men and women can both go study at university and the head of the religious order, the Pontifect, is female. That last fact isn't revealed until chapter four, when we meet her in person, despite Saker thinking about "the Pontifect" earlier. I admit I was quite pleased when I found out. It was also nicely juxtaposed later when an unpalatable character said something about women being inferior (some people laughed, some probably agreed).

The most awesome character, in my opinion, was Sorrel. I was delighted when her fate became entwined with Princess Mathilda's and I am very much looking forward to following her story in the second book. Mathilda was also a very interesting character. She reminded me of Marla from the Hythrun Chronicles by Jennifer Fallon, in that both the characters are smart, young noble women forced into marriage at a young age and powerless to control their own lives. Unlikely Marla, however, Mathilda doesn't have a wily adviser helping her out and her plans do not always work out how she wants them to. Where stories about intelligent and scheming girls (and boys) are fun to read, what Larke has created here is more realistic and just as enjoyable (albeit occasionally frustrating). I can imagine people not warming to Mathilda, especially since some of her actions are questionable, but I thought she was a great character.

Larke has written an excellent book that I highly recommend to all fantasy fans, especially those who like their fantasy serious, long, and with complex characters and motivations. I am very keen to read the next book in the series and I hope it's not too long a wait. For readers who have not read any Glenda Larke books before, this is a good a place to start as any book one.

5 / 5 stars

First published: March 2014, Orbit Books
Series: Yes. The Forsaken Lands book 1 of 3
Format read: eBook
Source: Purchased from iBooks
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

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