Chaz Brenchley’s Outremer saga has been receiving praise since its initial UK publication in 1998. In July 2003, ACE books began publishing this saga with the opening volume, The Devil in the Dust, followed quickly by The Tower of the King’s Daughter originally published by Orbit Books in the UK in one book as The Tower of the King’s Daughter. ACE will be issuing four more books in this saga through November 2003, whereas in the UK, Orbit kept the series as three books, rather than 3 books split into six volumes. I can’t quite understand the motivation for breaking the books up other than financial, but there you go.
On to the books themselves, in terms of the writing and what have you. Brenchley presents a well-developed world dominated, nearly in equal parts, by the church and magic. The church holds sway in many ways, perhaps most prominently in its Knights Ransomer. Brenchley bases these Knights on the Crusades, they are simultaneously priests and warriors. The Knights call the Roq de Rançon their sacred home, where they adhere to their religious and spiritual training in scriptures and prayers of the church in addition to their physical training in the ways of combat. As is typical of Epic/High fantasy, our viewpoint characters are the eyes of youthful characters, naive of the world the live in, with tendency for being headstrong in action and voice counter-balanced by the more than occasional mis-step. While it is an overwrought cliché of the genre, Brenchley invests enough originality to the intricate make-up of these characters to hold interest in their struggles.
The young knight, while eager to be what both his order wants, struggles with the dichotomy of difference between what being a member of the Order is compared to what he thought it was. The church forces itself upon outsiders, either making people join, or more often than not, destroying villages of what they consider to be heretics and heathens. Our young knight in training, Marron, early on is part of one of this vicious raids and begins doubting his order and whether or not he can just be a lemming and go along with what they tell him. He is later met, in an exhibition of a sword fight, with Sieur Anton. The older knight, impressed by the young man’s skill’s, soon takes him under his wing as squire. While the two get along pretty well, there are definite under, or perhaps overtones of more than simply knight and squire, their is a sexual connotation to their relationship despite both being in a holy place.
The other youth is the princess Julienne, who has been sent off by her father to marry. Along her journey to meet her husband to be, she meets with a wandering woman Elisande, again, the youth gains a mentor of sorts. The princess learns to open up and simultaneously, she learns of the magic in the world. Though of course, this magic Julienne learns about is the heathen magic the church denounces as Evil.
As we follow these two characters journey in the world of Outremer we see the two strongest aspects of the world, Magic and Religion. The two are opposed to other more often than not and presenting different ways of understanding the world. Through the first two books of this saga, Brenchley plots an enjoyable course to follow for these two characters, Marron and Julienne. By the end of the second installment, Tower of the King’s Daughter, Brenchley has shown enough of these characters and the world of Outremer so that I want to read the subsequent volumes. And really, isn’t that what’s important for a writer, to keep readers wanting more?
Reviewed by Rob H. Bedford
© 2003 Rob Bedford