I loved Knox’s AltEarth blend of historical-fantasy since I first saw (the excellent Goblins at the Gate), so I was very keen to try this latest installment, especially as it’s promising a mystery.
What to Expect
Expect a classic tale of mystery, where the protagonists – in this case, a band of actors – are drawn into solving a crime. When a fellow thespian is accused of theft, they start poking about to help – and this naturally leads them to larger machinations.
With a backdrop of 15th century Italy and in a world where magical races (elves, dwarves, ogres, and the like) are just considered people, and where the stolen artefact had magical powers that are of interest to both political and magically elite, we get treated to a very engaging novel.
What I liked
I love the setting. With Knox being a historian, the mediaeval underpinning of society are excellently researched and depicted in the novel. The world feels absolutely real, because it is closely based on our real world. Add the integrated magical twists, and it’s one of the best executions I’ve seen of historical fantasy.
I also loved the mystery aspect. This really does read like your classical mystery, where the protagonists get drawn in with good motivation, stumble about a little, stakes are raised, and after a brief climax comes the denouement of exposing the real criminal to the gathered parties. Knox pacing is excellent, and the story is flowing and engaging.
What to be aware of
While the story centres on a main character, it’s not a detective story (just a mystery). Knox handles the POV transitions expertly, but there is more than one person investigation (so not your more typical first-person view of the mystery genre, more akin to classical fantasy).
This is a low-fantasy world, and while magic is built in it’s not to the focus. Each of the previous novels was set in a different time period. The story story progresses fairly fast – I wish it was longer! I’m definitely looking forward to sequels, especially if they involve the cast of this one.
Felix actually met Val, leader of the troupe, though he wasn’t aware of it at the time! You can read about it here.
Once he read the novel, he appreciated the mystery quite well — especially having recovered his own fair share of purloined magical rings. He thought Val approached things valiantly and methodically, without getting distracted by the social status or other misdirection. Thinking back about their meeting, he appreciated his world-wise and only slightly world-weary attitudes; he believes these are a foundation of every good detective. While Felix thinks a few incantations might have helped, he knows Val wasn’t trained as such, and gives him all the more kudos for persisting.
One of the best historical-fantasy worlds out there today. While Knox’s world sprawls over the centuries (each of the previous novels was set in unrelated periods), it is consistently good. Add the mystery aspect this time, and you get an absolute must-read for fans of the genre mash-ups. I can’t wait for the sequels!
Enjoying the reviews, but wondering who the heck is that Felix fellow? Glad you asked! He’s the protagonist of the Togas, Daggers, and Magic series, an historical-fantasy blend of a paranormal detective on the background of ancient Rome.
Come meet Felix and his world on the free short stories and novels!