The Boy with the Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick

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The Boy with the Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Epic sword fantasy set in a Borgia-esque world with some great highs, this is definitely a first-in-a-trilogy novel with promise.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: March 2014
Publisher: Gollancz
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0575133839

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Lucien has reached his 18th birthday and final testing. This is the important one for Lucien is Orfano and as such lives for the day when he passes and can be adopted by one of the four houses. He hopes for the Fonteini, the house of fighters and with it will come an understanding of all the mysteries of Landfall. However there are some mysteries that are secrets even from the Orfani and for a very good reason.

English writer Den Patrick's writing career to date shows how serious fantasy readers are about their genre. Even after the release of three books under the title The War Fighting Manuals last year – one devoted to the characteristics and fighting style of Orcs, one outlining that of dwarves and one for those curious about elves, The Boy with the Porcelain Sword (a sword and sorcery fantasy without an orc, dwarf or elf in sight) is deemed to be his first novel. (I'm now awaiting a deluge oof emails from readers protesting that there's no reason why anything about Orcs, elves or dwarves shouldn't be non-fiction.)

I don't want to mislead anyone by referring to it as sword and sorcery. Actually there are no overt signs of sorcery either but, unless I'm imagining it, there seem to be delicious hints there for the future.

Indeed, there will be a future for this is the first in Den's Erebus Sequence trilogy and much has been pinned on it including a six-figure-sum by Gollancz and comparisons with Messrs Robin Hobb and Mervyn Peake. (Speaking personally more Mr Hobb than Mr Peake, but I can see what they mean.)

So is it worth the hype? Yes, but it's not without a mild hiccup or two. Without giving anything away there are one or two moments when the high standard Den has set himself lapses. These come in the form of a couple of predictable spots and a hybrid of panto crossed with Dr Who get-out-of-gaol card towards the end. However that's only the smallest fraction of moments in an epic packed with good ideas and some flashes of greatness that more than make up for it.

For instance the Borgia-style Italianate setting works as the novel's dark, vendetta/corruption feel matches the historical era perfectly. This is a kingdom ruled by a king nobody sees and divided into houses, each with its own career speciality and internecine problems in a kingdom overshadowed by menace.

Lucien and his friends are all 'Orfano', mysteriously adopted by the state. Here Orfano means more than 'orphan' as they all have something else in common. This quirk of commonality is clever, opening up possibilities that I'm sure Den will exploit in the coming volumes.

The story is well-constructed, jumping back and forth between the present, building the tension as Lucien prepares for his final testing, and alternate chapters, each updating us with what happened on the previous seven he was subjected to annually from the age of 10. In this way we're cleverly brought up to speed, each year gone by providing as many intriguing questions as hints.

If I was to pick a favourite character at this stage, it would be the wonderfully dry Professor Virmyre. Aranaea, a heroine who never speaks also deserves an honourable mention for originality. Lucien? He's ok but has much to learn; he spends most of the book travelling from place to place for a good beating or worse. Don't let this simplistic dissembling put you off though. After all, in the most basic terms Lord of the Rings is a quest to drop a ring down a hole but that doesn’t stop us from enjoying it.

We leave the surviving cast at the end much changed from when we found them as they develop in tandem with Den's inventiveness. Indeed The Boy… is a set-up novel that contains much promise for Eerebus Sequence 2, The Boy Who Wept Blood currently due out in November 2015. A long time to wait, but methinks it'll be worth it.

We'd definitely like to thank Gollancz for providing us with a copy for review.

Further Reading: If a sword and sorcery definitely appeals, we can also recommend The Hundred-Thousand Kingdoms (Inheritance Trilogy) by N K Jemisin.

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Buy The Boy with the Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Boy with the Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick at


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