Book Review: Chaz Brenchley — Outremer 3/6: A Dark Way To Glory

Just in case any of my regular readers haven’t picked up on this by now from the comment threads — this series has both straight and gay relationships, and rather a lot of lovely angst. Slash fans looking for slashy profic should be looking at this one.

Chaz Brenchley: Outremer 3/6: A Dark Way to Glory

It’s the first half of the trilogy’s middle volume, and it’s travelogue time. This is the section where many trilogies sag, but Brenchley paints a vivid picture of desert travel and its hardships and occasional delights. There’s also another display of how very different this series is from standard fantasy derived from Northern European mythology, with the world of the djinn beautifully evoked.

This volume gets the party from the Roc, where they met, to the place in the desert where they get to meet another major character, with some interesting diversions and scenery along the way. At the outset the party consists of Marron, Julianne and Elisande; Rudel and Redmond, the two Surayonese men; and Jemel, the young Sharai man introduced in volume 1 and briefly encountered in volume 2. The party have conflicting interests, not least because Marron and Elisande were involved in the death of Jemel’s lover during the battle in the Roc, but they also have common interests and a common destination. That should be enough to keep the party together, but they aren’t the only one with an interest in the supernatural burden Marron carries.

That burden, the almost-living weapon known as the Daughter, showed the first of its secrets at the end of the previous volume; in the trek across the desert we learn more of what it can do and what it does to its host, and a little of what it actually is. Marron isn’t the person anyone would have chosen to carry it, but proves equal to the task.

And again there are hints of various romantic interests and entanglements, without it being at all obvious how these will eventually be resolved. This segment of the story concludes with another twist of one of the romantic plotlines initiated in the first volume, enticing the reader to read on.

This volume introduces more characters and adds new plot threads without concluding earlier ones, but it does expand on hints dropped in the earlier volumes, adding more depth to the world and the main characters. With the original book being split into two for the US edition, it should be seen as a segment in a long novel rather than a novel in its own right, and in that context offers enough to make for a satisfying read while still leaving the reader wanting to move on to the next volume.

Feast of the King’s Shadow (Outremer) 2/3 at Amazon UK
Outremer #3: A Dark Way To Glory (Outremer, 3) 3/6 at Amazon US
Chaz Brenchley’s website

Book review: Chaz Brenchley — Outremer 2/6: Tower of the King’s Daughter

Note — this review refers to the second book of six in the US edition, not the first of three in the UK edition (which was split into two books for the US edition).

Chaz Brenchley’s Outremer series creates a richly imagined world populated by people who feel real. The pace is slow and unhurried, but it’s always clear that the story is going somewhere, and worth following. It’s solidly based in the real history of the Crusader kingdoms, but places them in a universe where the magic of that time and place is real, making for a compelling and different take on the fantasy genre.

This book opens where the previous volume left off, with the young squire Marron having to face the consequences of his choice to protect the Ransomers from a stealth invasion. It’s clear from the very first scene that this is no fluffy fantasy, where only redshirts die — Brenchley unflinchingly shows that Marron’s choice was between two evils, and that people he cares for would suffer greatly no matter which choice he made. It’s close to horror in its intensity, but it’s not gratuitous.

The pattern continues through the book, with choices having to be made by most of the characters, some lesser and some greater, but never easy choices. If you’re looking for a nice simple Good Versus Evil, look elsewhere. This series has complex characters reacting to complex situations, and actions don’t always have the consequences someone intended.

This volume develops the relationships already shown in the first volume, and shows more of two characters who were introduced relatively briefly. One of the plot hooks in the first volume provides much of the plotline for Julianne and Elisande, as they try to obey the djinni’s request/order to Julianne that she go where she is sent, and marry where she must. The promise proves both more complicated and more painful to keep than Julianne had imagined. And one of the hints for Marron and Sieur Anton comes to fruition, but Marron finds his own promises, to himself and to others, clashing with each other.

Some of the secrets hinted at in the first volume are unveiled — including the mystery at the heart of the titular tower, a strange edifice in the heart of the fortress of Roq de Rancon. But it’s clear that the characters still have a long journey ahead of them, and lessons to learn.

The series offers a fascinating world and well-developed characters, including strong female characters who feel integral rather than a nod to the female readership. It’s all presented in exquisite prose that’s a delight to read.

The US edition of the series is now out of print, although new stock is still available in some shops. The UK edition from Orbit is still in print. The books are also available within the UK direct from the author — only the UK editions are listed, but if you’d prefer the US editions it’s worth asking if there’s stock.

The Tower of the King’s Daughter (Outremer) UK volume 1 of 3 at Amazon UK
Tower of the King’s Daughter (Outremer, No. 2) Volume 2 of 6 at Amazon US

Chaz Brenchley’s website

Book Review: Chaz Brenchley — Outremer 1/6: The Devil in the Dust

A couple of notes: I bought the books because I know Chaz, aka [info]desperance, and that’s how I first heard about them. But I *did* check out other reviews before spending money… And this review was written after reading only the first volume. I strongly suspect I’ll have more to say about some things hinted at in this one when I’ve read the full set, but I’ll keep that for later and something that’s more beware-of-the-spoiler discussion than a review.

Chaz Brenchley — The Devil In The Dust

5 stars — Unusual and compelling historical fantasy

Chaz Brenchley’s Outremer series is an alternate-Crusades story set in a world where magic is real. As the story opens, the land of Outremer is a place where recent settlers have successfully imposed their religion and way of life upon those who were there before. But Outremer faces challenges from both without and within, and a military religious order grows ever more fanatical in its attempts to enforce the religious law.

The main characters in the novel show the diversity of opinion and culture within Outremer. The major plotline in this book follows two of the men in the Ransomer order. Marron is a young man who joined the Ransomer brothers out of idealism, but has seen the dark side of the order in his journey to the castle of Roq de Rancon where he will undergo training; Marron has true faith but his experience of a religious dictatorship leaves him disillusioned and in pain. He finds something worth believing in with Sieur Anton d’Escrivey, the Knight Ransomer who takes him on as squire, but d’Escrivey has problems of his own.

Julianne de Rance, daughter of the King’s Shadow, is a child of the court, a woman used to having status and power but now on her way to a political marriage in a culture where women are expected to go veiled. She’s temporarily trapped by circumstance in the Roc, along with Elisande, a young women she has picked up along the way. Elisande has little to say about herself, but it’s clear that there’s a good deal she could say if she chose to.

Their interactions with each other and those around them make for superb characterisation and worldbuilding, and Brenchley creates a vivid picture of his world without forgetting to tell a story. This is not an easy tale of good and evil, but a world where people have mixed loyalties and may have to make harsh choices as to who they serve.

This is the first part of the US edition of the Outremer series — I note this because the series was originally published as a trilogy in the UK, but for the American edition it was split into six volumes, with some rewriting. As such, The Devil In The Dust should really be read together with Tower of the King’s Daughter (also the title of the original UK volume 1 comprising the material in 1&2 of the US edition).

That said, this volume works well as a standalone segment within a larger story arc. The book introduces characters and sets up several plotlines for the series, but provides a satisfactory resolution for part of the storyline within the book, rather than leaving the reader with a cliffhanger. It pulls off the difficult trick of being a satisfying read in its own right while being an enticement to read the rest of the story. An excellent start to what looks from this sample to be an excellent series.

The US edition of the series is now out of print, although new stock is still available in some shops. The UK edition from Orbit is still in print. The books are also available within the UK direct from the author — only the UK editions are listed, but if you’d prefer the US editions it’s worth asking if there’s stock.

The Tower of the King’s Daughter (Outremer) UK edition volume 1 of 3 at Amazon UK
Outremer #1: The Devil in the Dust (Outremer, Book 1) US edition Volume 1 of 6 at Amazon US
Chaz Brenchley’s website

Book review: Satosumi Takaguchi — Shout Out Loud 3

Third in a five part series about a long-separated father and son getting to know each other while trying to deal with new relationships.

Nakaya’s got a bad crush on the ice hockey coach, and tries to do something about it. He ends up asking his father’s advice on what happens if you find yourself attracted to another man — but Shino’s struggling with the same question himself. Shino’s colleague Tenryu has made his own feelings clear, and Shino’s found himself responding.

After finishing the first half of their current anime series the voice actors go for a weekend break at a spa resort, giving ample opportunity for squabbling and seduction attempts — none of which go according to plan. By the end of the book Shino faces the fact that he might finally be falling in love again, for the first time since he lost Nakaya’s mother.

As with the first two books in the series, it’s more about the story than the sex — this volume does ramp up the steaminess, but the men and the book don’t go all the way. There’s some nice foreplay and kissing, but the real joy is in the humour and the way the various relationships develop. It’s gentle but it’s not pure fluff — for example, Tenyru’s dealing with a nasty divorce and faces losing contact with his daughter — which makes it all the better.

It’s possible to follow the plot in this one with just a synopsis of the previous volumes, but I’d strongly recommend reading the first two volumes first — you’ll get a lot more out of it if you’ve already got to know the characters.

Shout Out Loud! Volume 3: (Yaoi) at Amazon US
Shout Out Loud! (Yaoi) at Amazon UK
Shout out Loud!, Volume 3 at Barnes & Noble
at Powells