Orbit, £12.99, Order for £11.69 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

The Fallen Blade, By Jon Courtenay Grimwood

Medieval mystery makes the cut

One of the problems some people have with fantasy fiction is that so much of it deals with people with made-up names struggling to save kingdoms that were never on any map save in the endpapers of the book.

Some writers get past this by being extraordinarily detailed in their world-building. Tolkien's Middle-earth came equipped with millennia of history and a number of fully developed languages. Another way, the one Jon Courtenay Grimwood adopts, is to set your tales of terror, danger and adventure in a world that is our world turned sideways and given a twist. We suspend our disbelief precisely because he engages us in the question of what is different and why.

So it is not just that the world of The Fallen Blade is a medieval Venice with spells, werewolves and someone who acts like a vampire but may be the child of an angel. In this 15th-century Venice, the Republic fell long ago, to be replaced by a dynasty descended from Marco Polo and Mongol princesses. A Mamluk dynasty rules Egypt and Byzantium seems likely to stand for a while longer, but the realities of power are much the same as in our own Middle Ages. Sea power is the key to trade and trade the key to wealth – and Cyprus is a prize worth dynastic marriages and the sending of great armadas.

Some of the stories are the same. Venice's admiral, and secret master of its corps of assassins, is Atilo, who bought the survival of a defeated Tunis by becoming the servant of the doge. He woos and wins the noble Desdaio and his subordinate Iacopo does his best to drive him to mad jealousy – but things can have different outcomes. Grimwood plays brilliantly with an audience's tendency to guess and look for plot spoilers. He reminds us that the author, and not the reader, is in control.

Similarly, we do not know the true nature of Atilo's slave and protégé, the boy Tycho. True, he does not like sunlight, drinks blood and has difficulty crossing water – but he has memories of a long-gone Vinland settlement, and those in the know refer to him as the Fallen. This is a book full of mysteries that remain unsolved and outcomes that remain cloudy. Grimwood creates a fascinating world and involving characters – most importantly, he makes us want to read the next two volumes of the trilogy.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living