Gollancz, p/b Â£12.99
Reviewed by R A Bardy (@mangozoid)
Stephen Deasâ€™ The Black Mausoleum is apparently the fourth book in the Memory of Flames series, but since this one starts with the world now under the fiery domination of dragons, Iâ€™m guessing all the books that came before have merely led up to this cataclysmic state of affairs anyway.
Not being familiar with the earlier stories didnâ€™t seem to be a problem, so this would seem a decent point at which to jump into Deasâ€™ dark and grim but nonetheless heroic fantasy world. The Dragon Realms is a place where dragons are scaly, scary, and breathe serious fire; alchemists are blood-mages, failed dragon keepers, but still powerful enough to bind others to their will; and Adamantine Men (aka Embers) are born and bred to be dragon slayers, saturated with enough poison to fell even the biggest of fire-breathing beastie. Everyone else is pretty much an Outsider of some description, or a classic Star Trek redcoat…
And this, my friends, is where the story beginsâ€¦ An alchemist, an Ember bent to her will, and a crazed madman who knows a lot more than heâ€™s letting on. Between them, they begin a quest to find the Black Mausoleum, fabled resting place of the Silver King, a half-god with the power to tame the world, etc. The fact that the crazed madman spends almost the entire story being carried around like a sack of spuds by Skorl (the Ember), and is incapable of doing anything for himself throughout most of the story is probably a great testament to the authorâ€™s skilful handling of the matter, although I personally found it annoying after the first couple of hundred pages.
Of course, fighting your way through a world dominated by dragons is never going to be easy, and the temptation to dismiss this as just another mighty quest through a host of random encounters is ever present, but I still loved it. Thereâ€™s a cracking pace throughout, and all the characters have hidden, darker depths â€“ I think I disliked all of them, actually â€“ with perhaps only Skorl being the one who seems to stay true to his Adamantine convictions.
A very good yarn, and I wouldnâ€™t hesitate to recommend it as a pleasant time-waster. Well told, nippy, and chock full of twists and turns. Not quite a thumper, but very entertaining.