The Wench is Dead – Drakenfeld by Mark Charan Newton

Drakenfeld-Cover-ArtDrakenfeld is a book that wears its many influences with pride. It has a fantasy setting that is based heavily on Ancient Rome. There’s political intrigue, a locked room mystery, and finally Drakenfeld himself; a sword wielding Inspector Morse. I was also tempted to describe him as Hercules Poirot. He is a detective built in crime fiction’s classic mode.

This is a slow burning novel. If you have read any of Mark CN’s other novels you will know his world building is very strong. The Romanesque city of Tryum in the province of Detrata is painstakingly constructed. A vibrant city complete with rich merchants, slums, law enforcement, a royal family and a group of manipulative and ambitious senators.

Tryum has an intriguing political system that sits inside a bigger confection, Vispasia, an uneasy alliance of eight royal kingdoms. Overseeing this confederacy is the Sun Chamber, an impartial body, tasked with ensuring the wheels of governance run smooth.

Lucan Drakenfeld is an officer of the Sun Chamber, recalled to Tryum upon the death of his father. Lucan is a second generation officer, his father had a long illustrious career, in the shadow of which his son seems destined to stand.  Upon arriving back home after years abroad, Lucan has an indefinite feeling that there is more to his father’s death than plain natural causes. Before he makes any inroads into discovering the truth, there is murder at the palace. The King’s sister murdered in a locked temple outside of which there are hundreds of partygoers. The games is afoot!

The characterisation in Drakenfeld is second to none.  The central pairing, Lucan and Leana, his warrior Dr Watson, are wholly credible. Strong yet flawed, the interplay between the two, is the basis of everything that is good in this novel.  Beyond that the secondary characters are well-drawn.  There are no morally corrupt baddies or exemplary goodies, just ordinary conflicted humans, being greedy, helpful, lovestruck, selfish and any other number of states that in which we find ourselves as we navigate the tricky business of life.

The novel is a pleasing political whodunit. Everybody and nobody had reason to murder the King’s sister, his closest confidant.  Political manoeuvring? Crime of passion? Something more sinister, otherworldly even? These are the questions Drakenfeld wrestles with. The build up the mystery’s resolution is measured, possibly a little too slow. I had started to become restless, wishing something significant would happen. In fact, Lucan and Newton play their hands to perfection.magiceyye

The best way I can describe reading Drakenfeld is that it’s like staring a Magic Eye picture (a phenomenon that were unbelievable popular about twenty years ago). I’d skim read a couple of reviews of Drakenfeld, all saying how marvellous it was. It was much like somebody who could see a magic eye picture. They would smugly tell you how great it was, whilst you stared vainly at random pixels, none the wiser.  As I read, I couldn’t quite see what the fuss was about. Great world-building, but rare action and slow storytelling.  Then the image coalesces, and the beauty of the picture is revealed. And so it is with Drakenfeld. Suddenly everything gels. The deliberate world-building and exemplary character development pay off, delivering a barnstorming finale and wholly satisfying denouement.

Many Thanks Lauren to at Tor for sending me a review copy of this book. 

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