Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Fallen Blade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

Posted by Simcha 5:40 PM, under | 7 comments

A boy hangs naked and shackled in a walled-off room, with no memory of how he had come to be there. A young girl races through the streets of Venice, fleeing from her uncle’s assassins and his dark plans for her. And in dark alleys, seedy taverns and lavish palace chambers, the political plots and schemes are constantly brewing.

With a tantalizing introduction to two of the story’s main protagonists, Jon Grimwood easily pulled me into The Fallen Blade, where the innocent often get caught up in the schemes of the powerful. Tycho and Giulietta are two central players in the story and, innocent or not, they quickly become pawns in the political game that is being played out.

Sixteen year old Lady Giulietta attempts to run away from the palace before she can be married off to a foreign king. But Giuliette’s opposition to the marriage turns to true horror when she learns of the role her uncle intentions for her.

Tycho has no memory of how he had come to be in Venice and why he is suddenly consumed with a strange hunger that he can’t seem to assuage. He also seems to have developed super human strength and speed, which will gain Tycho the unwelcome interest of Venice’s chief of assassins.

And in the streets of Venice roam the “demons,” humans who can take the form of wolves and who have their own plans for Venice, plans which involve the young Lady Giulietta.


But while the story starts off strong its tight grip on me soon slackened as I struggled to make sense of the confusing series of events that follows the introduction. It took me a few chapters until the story swept me up again, though this time it managed to keep me pretty much engaged until close to the end, where it kind of falls apart.

There was a lot that I really liked about
The Fallen Blade, such as the fast pace, the interesting characters, the atmospheric setting and the alternate fifteenth century Venice that includes witches, werewolves and vampires. But the story was weakened by the shaky plotting, inconsistent character behavior and some unsatisfying plot resolutions which kept The Fallen Blade from being as good as it could have been.

For example, Giulietta could have been a really strong and memorable character but instead came across as annoying and unbelievably naive. Her story-line, which was a central part of the main plot, was wrapped up too neatly to be satisfying and too early to keep me interested in the rest of the story. After her story was taken care of the rest of the book seemed to drag on for too long without any real purpose.

And while the story includes witches, werewolves and a vampire-like character, we get almost no background information about these magical beings or how they came to be part of Venice. I imagine there will be more explanations in the sequels but at least some explanations would have been appreciated here, especially in regard to Tycho. It was never clear if his abilities were ones that he was born with or if he just suddenly developed them, and this is just one of the basics bits of information that would have been nice to know.

I was also bothered by the way characters were sometimes made to behave or react in ways that didn’t follow the logic of the story, in order to keep the plot moving forward. Tycho gets captured, even though his abilities should have made it easy for him to evade his captors. A mad ruler suddenly becomes sane just at the moment when he is needed to save a particular character's life. The plotting just felt a little too contrived at times.

While I enjoyed reading The Fallen Blade I still felt that it had the potential to be a lot better and I probably will follow up with the sequel to see if Grimwood manages to bring that potential to light.

7 comments:

I have this one on my want list. Thanks for the honest review. ANd it sounds like a good read. :) I'll be looking forward to the day I finally get it. :)

cool cover art, Venice, seedy underbelly, thieves, assassins, sounds like lots of suspenseful chase scenes and the like.

sign me up!!!

I have not heard of this one, I may have to take a peek, or maybe I will wait to see what you have to say about the sequel

Why is it that I never seem to go all wohoo over books like this one? Just do not know

I have to say anything set in Venice gets me salivating, expecially if it's paranormal. But even if it's fantasy - I don't like it when the plot is "contrived" as you say.

Melissa: It think you will probably enjoy this book

Redhead: Yes, there are some pretty good suspense scenes here and the author does a wonderful job of depicting the atmosphere of Venice.

Me: Sure thing, though you might have to wait a while...

Blodeuedd: Yeah, I'm not sure if this is a book you would enjoy. But I could be wrong. There is some romance...

Stephanie: Have you read the Lies of Locke Lamora? That takes place in a Venice-like place and is a very fun fantasy.

Thanks for the review. Appreciated. If the mad ruler who saves Tycho is Marco then I'm slightly tied by original play as he's mostly riffed off Hamlet; but also Marco's way more tricksy than he first appears!

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