A couple of notes: I bought the books because I know Chaz, aka 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