Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson
This is the second volume of the Grand Vizier of Krar series. The tale continues with a fortunately frustrated attempt to murder Memwin, the five-year-old daughter of the Black Knight. There is nothing quite like grabbing the attention of the reader from the very start. Thus, Volume Two starts off at full blast just where the first volume left off.
The character of Memwin is best described as a loveable monster who contrives to hide her skills in plain sight. This child is precocious in a truly cold bloodied, calculating sense. We need to feel lucky that she is on the side of the good guys and gals as well as being precious to the gentle, loving heart of our heroine Blan, or Blancapaw. Memwin deploys her skills as an undercover spy who penetrates the very beating heart of the Black Knight’s huge armies to poison any who frustrate her. Children like that should not be allowed. Even the Black Knight, the cold-hearted, evil ambitious enemy of civilisation, whom we all thrill to loathe, is askance at the apparent, subversive skill of his unknown daughter.
But then we need to accept that Memwin is a product of her times and society. These are truly brutal times when horrendous war and destruction is visited upon the innocent at the whim of the great and grand. Those who support the Grand Vizier in opposition to the Black Knight with his huge army and massive navy, remain few and seem almost permanently on the back foot. Their resources are insufficient and their numbers inadequate. Whereas the usurpers have all the wealth, the power, vast armies, many spies and an infinite quantity of multi-masted ships, the good guys and gals are plucky, resourceful and forever optimistic. No black-dog for them! They actively promote sudden and dramatic attacks on their larger, but slower enemies causing them to fall back into fire-fighting. This in turn leads us into the dark world of conspiracy, spies, treachery and deceit.
Yet Blan or Blancapaw or even Blansnette, another identity adopted to confuse the enemy, the inheritor of the post of Grand Vizier of Krar has met Telkooay, the Prince of Akrin and they become an item. Hooray! We have a love story as the Prince deploys his small army and navy into the struggle on the simple basis that in attacking the office of the Grand Vizier the Black Knight is behaving unconstitutionally. The swine! Blan wants to show her lover Telko the alien sky-ship she found in Volume One. In this endeavour, she is supported by the or-bears, an evolved orangutan that looks like a bear, who live in the same caves as the abandoned sky-ship occupies.
Very quickly from a simple start there are three stories revolving around the wider work, each encircling and complicating the other. There is a saga of alien technology which Blan is learning in order to deploy it in the war. There is the ongoing conflict with the Black Knight and his huge military machine which leads from the capture of Austra Castle by the opposition and the opening up of another front on land and sea around Port Fandabbin and its hinterland of rivers, mountains, swamps, subterranean streams, caves, besieged and ruined cities. Then there is the apparent, tragic murder of Telko by the Black Knight and Blan’s sense of loss. Later she finds herself pregnant but does not know who the father is. It might be Telko, it might be the Black Knight or it could be a casual rapist, a champion in the Black Knight’s army who Memwin happens to sort out very effectively.
Now and again the narrative hints to the reader that the Great Plan is at work. This is a theme that started in Volume One but which the narrator seems uncertain as how to handle. Obviously, the writer likes to surprise the reader and keep their expectations off balance. This can be disconcerting at times but such is the nature of the plot, the exquisite detailing of topography, the statement of human emotion and the simple subterfuges that the reader finds themselves overlooking the weak points for the sheer exuberance of the tale. It was dear, mad old William Blake who described exuberance as beauty. So, what is a work of fiction about if it does not entertain? Maybe there are some who might disagree with that sentiment, but I suggest they return to the halls of academia, to leave the romantics alone.
Having said that I do have my own reservations about the military capabilities of feudal kingdoms which I am wont to express. I appreciate that one should not allow reality to obstruct a good fantasy but in order to work, a fantasy must possess a dose of reality to provide a grounding of relevance. The Grand Vizier of Krar series possesses that healthy dose of reality from its very detail that makes its execution a true entertainment.
It would be inappropriate to disclose more of the plot other than to say that it is a good, meaty yarn. In the end of Volume Two the Black Knight is sick. His place has been taken by his elder sister Rega. If you thought the Black Knight bad, then his sister is something else. We can now look forward to Volume Three, the Balance of Doubt. All good stuff!