Swashbuckling with Morticai

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Morticai’s untitledLuck
Darlene Bolesny
Dark Star Books
Trade ppb, 245 p., $15.95
Ebook, $5.95

Ever gone to a con and come home with more books than it’s humanly possible to read in a reasonable period of time?

Of course you have.

That’s part of the con experience. A major part if you’re like me.

Which leads me to a rather awkward confession. Last year, February to be exact, I was at a room party at ConDFW hosted by Dark Star Books publisher Thomas Knowles. Mr. Knowles was kind enough to give me a review copy of Morticai’s Luck, by one Darlene Bolesny.

A review copy which I gladly accepted, took home, and promptly misplaced. Along with about half a dozen other books from the con. (Don’t laugh. If you’d seen my living quarters at the time, you’d understand.) Anyway, the book resurfaced late last summer when I was packing to move to a larger house. Before I could fit the book into the queue, the opportunity to blog for Amazing Stories ™ arose. I decided to post the review here, where it would get more traffic than it would on my own blog. So here, greatly belated, and with apologies to both Mr. Knowles and Ms. Bolesny, is my review.

Morticai is a corryn, which in some ways is this particular world’s equivalent of an elf, although the analogy isn’t perfect. Corryn tend to be taller than humans, have pointed ears, and live hundreds of years. Morticai grew up an orphan on the streets. He’s now a member of the Northmarch, a combination police and military force that exists across multiple kingdoms. They’re politically neutral, something that becomes crucial to the plot when war erupts. Their ranks consist of both human and corryn. Morticai is also a former thief and a member of a secret society with a specific agenda.

When we meet Morticai, he’s engaged in burglarizing the home of one of the local nobles, who happens to be a member of the Trade Council. (This activity isn’t sanctioned by the Northmarch, in case you’re wondering.) The Trade Council is involved in a dispute with a neighboring kingdom, a dispute which is going from bad to worse. Morticai has just uncovered evidence that this particular nobleman is a member of the Droken. The Droken are a bloodthirsty cult who worship an outlawed god. They’re also the reason Morticai grew up as an orphan.

Morticai has dedicated his life to hunting them down and eradicating them. He doesn’t know just how great a task he’s set himself.

I found Morticai’s Luck to be a fun, fast-paced swashbuckler. There’s plenty of action and intrigue. It’s also extremely dark in places. The Droken practice human sacrifice as well as cannibalism. Early in the story, there’s a scene in which a member of the cult is punished for trying to leave. The punishment involves him sacrificing his own son. The book isn’t that dark all the way through, however. But if you’re squeamish or that sort of thing disturbs you, you might like to know. Morticai gets captured by the Droken at one point and is tortured rather extensively. I thought Ms. Bolesny did a good job of showing enough without showing too much.

In fact this sequence was one of my favorite parts of the book. Things move fast in this novel, at times almost too fast. Once Morticai gets captured, everything slowed down. This was a good thing, because the author took advantage of the change in pace to build suspense. The cast of characters is rather large, especially for a novel of this length. Three very different groups are looking for Morticai when he disappears (he didn’t bother to tell anyone where he was going): the Northmarch, the Inquisition, and the aforementioned secret society. This in and of itself is something unusual, since there is a natural mistrust among the three organizations.

The viewpoint in the story isn’t confined to Morticai. Ms. Bolesny shows us events from the perspective of hero and villain. She uses this approach to her advantage here as we get to see how Morticai’s allies and enemies alike react to his capture and torture. All of the fear, pain, confusion, bravery, cowardice, and cruelty you might expect in such a situation are there, and we get to observe it up close. It’s at this point that many of the cast, some of whom have merely lurked in the wings, take center stage and become fully fleshed individuals. I hope if I’m ever in a bad fix, I’ll have friends like the ones Morticai has. Some of them disobey direct orders and risk their careers and their lives for him.

The Droken are nasty villains, especially Prince Luthekar, son of a corryn woman and the god Droka. Near the end, we see some of Droka’s point of view, making him more than your cookie cutter evil god. There’s history between him and the other gods that’s hinted at in several places in the story. I’m hoping in the next novel, Ms. Bolesny will fill in more of that history. I’m also hoping we’ll see the human son of Droka; he’s referenced here but doesn’t take part in the action. I have to wonder what he’s up to, since Luthekar seems to be operating independently of him.

Overall, this was an enjoyable book and one I recommend. I read the dead tree edition, so I can’t comment on the electronic edition like I’ve done in the last several posts. I’d also like to thank Thomas Knowles for the review copy and apologize again for misplacing the book.

The next book in the series, Sagril’s Tower, is due out later this spring. I’m looking forward to it.

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