Mark Charan Newton’s follow up to his fantasy whodunnit, Drakenfeld, picks up the story immediately where we left it. If you haven’t read Drakenfeld, you should probably read that first. Retribution does stand on its own, but much of the interplay between Drakenfeld and his companion, Leana would be without context and therefore diminished. In any case, it’s always best to start at the beginning (it’s a very good place to start).
Fresh from his success in the court of Tryum, Drakenfeld is posted to the city of Kuvash where a high ranking bureaucrat has requested the attendance of a member of the Sun Chamber, Vispasia’s neutral police force. A high ranking Bishop has gone missing. Unwilling to allow political unrest to foment in a region destabilised by the events of book one, the Commissioners of the Sun Chamber dispatch Drakenfeld in spite having received a second message stating help was no longer required. Unsure of what he is walking into, Drakenfeld arrives hoping to discuss matters with Sulma Tan, Secretary to the Queen of Koton.
On his arrival Drakenfeld is informed that the dismembered body of the Bishop has turned up. The man had clearly been tortured and died in agony, but there is little clear motive for his death. The Bishop was well liked, and as he was to soon leave the city, there is little political motivation for his murder. It is only after the discovery of a second body that patterns begin to emerge and Drakenfeld can begin to tease out clues as to the killer’s identity. Still unaware of what he is dealing with, Drakenfeld finds himself not only trying to solve two grisly murders, but fighting to prevent his own.
Retribution marks a step up in quality its predecessor. The original novel, though very good, dragged a little in the middle. There was lots of (fictional) politics and I found it difficult to fully buy into the complex machinations. Here, whilst the murder victims have political connections, the mystery is of a more visceral kind. There’s a serial killer on the loose; one who’s very good at hiding their tracks.
I don’t want to say too much more, lest I give something away, so I’ll stick to generalities. The Drakenfeld books are nominally fantasy novels, but whilst they are set on a fictional continent, this should not put off non-fantasy readers. These books are far more reminiscent of Samson’s Shardlake or Pariss’ Bruno novels than The Lord of the Rings. There are swords but only the barest whiff of sorcery. It’s unusual for the magic and monsters to be so pared down and it makes a welcome change.
Once again the world building is strong. Koton, a neighbouring province to Detrata from the first novel, is well realised, as its capital city. The flavour of the book is very different from the first, thanks to the cultural differences between the two settings. It is very much its own novel, but because of a wider overreaching story arc the two books dovetail together well. As with all the Mark Charan Newton books I’ve read, this is a book with a social conscience. Oppression and exploitation are never far away from his central plots and events often mirror real-world cultural dilemmas.
Retribution is an excellent novel. ‘Sherlock Holmes meets Game of Thrones’, some bright blurb writer might be tempted to say, which segues nicely into my final observation. Drakenfeld, Leanna and the enigmatic Sun Chamber would make tremendous television. Rich settings, strong characters, interesting politics and a outfit dedicated to solving crime, what more could you ask for? This is a series that could run and run, and long may it do so.
Many Thanks to Lauren and Clare at Macmillan for sending me a copy of this book.