Drakenfeld is a curious amalgam of fantasy and crime fiction in a world that tastes like ancient Rome. It follows Lucan Drakenfeld, an agent of the Su...moreDrakenfeld is a curious amalgam of fantasy and crime fiction in a world that tastes like ancient Rome. It follows Lucan Drakenfeld, an agent of the Sun Chamber (an organisation tasked with maintaining peace between the various unified nation states – imagine an ancient version of the UN) as he finds his simple homecoming isn’t as straightforward as he expects.
From the very first line, the writing is interesting and very readable. Told in the first-person from Drakenfeld’s point of view, we have a narrator with a wonderful eye for detail and a fairly assured view of the world; though this is nicely tempered by his own physical limitations and a possibly-misplaced faith in both gods and people. The return to his home city after a long time away means the description of the world around him is often based on comparisons with his memories, which helps keep the descriptions natural and it never feels bogged down in exposition.
Further viewpoints are provided by the characters closest to Lucan. Leana, his assistant/bodyguard/confidant, provides an outsider’s view. She’s a strong warrior from outside the Royal Vispasian Union, and with her dark skin an outward sign of difference, she enables a window into the attitudes of Tryum’s elite towards other nations and cultures. She’s also very straight-talking and can more than handle herself in a fight. A wonderful character indeed.
The insider’s view is provided by senator Veron, who is also fun to read. Through him we get to understand the political side of life, and who the movers and shakers of the ruling and military classes are. Being a long-term resident of Tryum, he’s also a useful guide to the more interesting parts of town for Lucan.
Beyond these, the supporting cast is very detailed and believable despite its size. All walks of life seem to be covered from royalty and military leaders down to shopkeepers and street thugs. Each has a distinct voice and the variety of characterisations paints a picture of a well thought out society, and this isn’t all that’s well thought out...
The world building on show is exquisite, and really draws the reader in. The descriptions are full of character and Tryum feels like it could have been lifted straight out of ancient Rome. But even beyond the physical, there’s so much more to it that adds texture. The political system is nicely constructed, right down to its tensions with the military as well as the independence of the Sun Chamber. Religion also plays a major part in life, with a varied pantheon of deities, nicely contrasted with Leana’s more spiritual view of the world. There are even a few hints and whisperings of supernatural happenings and magic, though met with no shortage of scepticism. But none of this is there just for the sake of it. These factors all influence the way various characters behave and interrelate to each other, as well as shaping their attitudes to such things as death and honour.
The plot, the locked room mystery of the King’s sister’s murder, is nicely worked. The intrigue keeps building and building, and is really well paced in the main. The chapters are short and punchy and show the myriad threads that Drakenfeld is trying to follow without getting too heavily ensconced in any of them. I found it very easy to read and a genuine page-turner. It also has that lovely quality of a mystery, that when the reader is sure they’ve got it all worked out, the game changes. This makes for a very compelling read.
My criticisms are few and relatively minor. I did feel that some of the loose ends were tied up a little too quickly and cleanly by the end of the book, though one fantastical thread that really intrigued me was left unresolved, where I would have liked it to be explored a bit further. I fully expect this to play a more prominent part in Drakenfeld’s future excursions though.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Drakenfeld. It’s a cleverly crafted mystery told in a beautiful way. However, what really stood out for me is that beneath this mystery there runs a strong current of engaging human relationships. From Lucan’s relationships with his dead father or with Leana, right up to the King and the people around him, it’s a story very much driven by the emotional ties between its characters. This, in addition to its readability, makes it almost certainly the best book I’ve read this year, and I am looking forward to the next instalment. Highly recommended.