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Outremer by Chaz Brenchley

Review by Mike

Outremer is a fantasy trilogy that seems to be available only in UK and perhaps Canada. I don't think the books have ever been released in hardcover. It seems to be a low-budget paperback deal all the way through. I found them by clicking on those infamous "customers who bought this item also bought..." buttons on Amazon UK. The synopsis and reviews looked good so I thought "hey, they must be right some time" and went ahead and bought them.

Tower of the King's Daughter (1998)
Feast of the King's Shadow (2000)
Hand of the King's Evil (2002)

The world and history of this series feel instantly familiar. Outremer was the name given to the countries in and around Palestine that was founded by Christian crusaders in the 12th century. Pretty much the same thing has happened here. Fourty years ago armed forces from a distant country arrived to claim the Holy City, Ascariel, for their religion. They managed to defeat the Ekhad empire in possesion of Ascariel. Their leader crowned himself king of Outremer and divided it into provinces to be ruled by his vassals. However, the peace is fragile as the Sharai tribes to the east also consider it a holy land, but they have been fighting among themselves instead of uniting against their common enemy. So far.

All is not exactly as in our world though. Magic exists and there are mysterious and dangerous spiritual creatures. Their most intriguing talent is that they can predict future events. We meet one of them, a djinni, early on when two of the main characters encounter it and learn something of their fates. Despite the early meeting of the creature, little is revealed of what these creatures really are and how the magic works in the beginning.

The story is told through the eyes of several persons on different sides in this conflict, but four characters get most of the spotlight. Julianne, daughter of the King's Shadow, is on her way to meet her future husband (a political union of course) when her father is called away on the king's business. Soon after she meets the secretive Elisande, dressed as a peasant boy but far too well educated to fit that station. They decide to travel together to the fortress of the Ransomers, an order of warriors dedicated to the service of the God (much like the Knights Templar). There waits Marron, who has travelled far over the ocean to serve in the Order, but life among the Ransomers does not turn out as he had expected. Finally we have Jemel, a Sharai warrior on a secret mission to strike against Outremer. All of them feel real and are easy to get attached to, even though Marron gets a bit annoying at times. He actually made me think of Thomas Covenant. *g*

This was my first contact with Chaz Brenchley, but apparently he has been a writer for many years. That makes sense since his style is well developed. He has a poetic touch and uses many clever metaphors. Unfortunately, he also has a tendency to write sentences that are so long and complicated that you have to read them over and over to understand them. In that way he reminded me of Guy Gavriel Kay, who suffers from the same malady, but perhaps to a lesser degree. The first chapters were the most difficult to get through, partly because we are pretty much dumped in his world without any explanations, but then I got into the writing style and the reading became easier. Still, I much prefer the style of authors like Ursula Le Guin and Patricia McKillip. Reading should be easy, not a chore.

Now for the major problem with this story - the plot. Brenchley has done a nice job with the good guys, making sure that we are aware of the motivations that make them behave the way they do. Too bad he never realised that you have to motivate bad guys too. Being evil in a general way is not enough; they must have something to gain from a conflict too. It was not until way into the second book that it became evident who the bad guys were, and no explanation for their behaviour was offered until after the final battle was over. By then the question of why they risked their lives had been annoying me for a long time and pretty much ruined the plot for me. It just made no sense! Other things confused me too, but they fall under spoilers. The ending was cool in a way and did answer some questions, but it was too little and too late.

Despite the plot problems and overdone prose I'll have to give Brenchley credit for his interesting characters and thoroughly constructed world. All things considered - 3 amulets.

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