Book Review: Chaz Brenchley — Outremer series

I’ve been reviewing the individual books of the Outremer series as I finished each one, but the series could be considered as one long novel, and now I’d like to look at the series as a whole. A quick bit of background from when I asked Chaz about whether I should get the UK or US edition — the series was originally conceived as a quadrology, but part way through the UK publisher asked for it to be done as a trilogy, which led to the final volume being paced a bit differently to the original intention. When Ace bought the US rights, they chose to split the original three books into two volumes each, and issue the series as six books. Chaz took the chance to tidy up the third book of the trilogy, so apart from the splitting into two, there’s also a significant difference in the actual text. If you read the US edition, as I did, it’s worth bearing in mind that each pair of volumes is really a single book, and paced as such.

read more on The Books of Outremer

Book review: Chaz Brenchley — Outremer 6/6: The End of All Roads

I still need to write an overview of the series as a whole, but here’s the review of the final volume in the US edition:

Chaz Brenchley — Outremer 6/6: The End of All Roads

Over the last five volumes, Brenchley has laid out a large number of plot strands. Now he weaves them together in a final volume that sustains the tension almost to the end. The folded land of Surayon is folded no more, and has become a battleground for multiple warring armies, not all of them human. The different human armies are at war with one another, but face a greater enemy — if they can recognise it in time. The central characters of the series face their own battle to protect the many people and things they love, not all of which are on the same side. Marron’s battle is particularly harsh, for he has sworn, with good reason, to never again use the power of the Daughter to kill.

Even in the midst of battle, this is a character-driven story, and there’s some beautiful development of character, as each of the surviving main characters is tested to the breaking point. That’s “surviving”, because right the way through this has not been your fluffy fantasy where only the redshirts die. There’s no gratuitous gore, but that’s not because the author flinches away from showing the reality of a land at war. As a result, there’s genuine suspense right to the last chapter.

At the end of the battle for Surayon, there’s one last conflict to resolve. The King of all Outremer has until now been an off-stage figure, shown only through what others say about him, and the effects of the magical power he wields. And the survivors from various sides have questions they would like answered about his failure to intervene in their war at an early stage. They get their answers, but answers that pose more questions.

While Brenchley answers the reader’s questions, it’s far from a neat and tidy ending. A satisfying one, with Julianne, Elisande and Marron pragmatic enough to be content with what they’ve got, but certainly not a tidy one.

As a whole then, this is a wonderful and unusual fantasy series, with this volume providing a fitting conclusion. And while romance isn’t the be-all and end-all of the plot, the series is definitely one for fans of unconventional romance, so long as they don’t insist on all parties getting an unambiguous Happy Ever After.

Outremer #6: The End of All Roads (Outremer, 6) 6/6 at Amazon US
Hand of the King’s Evil (Outremer) 3/3 at Amazon US
Chaz Brenchley’s website

Book review: Chaz Brenchley — Outremer 5/6: Hand of the King’s Evil

The middle two volumes were focused purely on the desert, but this volume opens in Outremer, showing something of what happened to the people who were left behind. Magister Fulke is still intent on war against Surayon, and when he marches out, Sieur Anton marches with him — still hoping to find his errant squire Marron.

Those of the desert have a more pressing concern — finding and rescuing Julianne, who was abducted on her wedding night. They follow the trail to a trade city on the border between Outremer and the lands of the Sharai.

That’s her second wedding night. She ran away from her first husband on her first wedding night, hating to leave him but following a more urgent promise. Imber hasn’t giving up hope of finding her, and joins a march to the trade City in search of the coming war.

Then there’s the mysterious preacher and his flock of the not-quite-healed; an army, perhaps, for someone who chooses to use it that way.

And they’re all aimed at Surayon, with one tiny and personal battle near the end of this volume paving the way for a much larger battle in the next and final volume of the series.

This is only the first half of what was originally published in the UK as a single volume, but stands well on its own as a prelude to the final twisting together of the various plot strands that have been laid out over the course of the series. Even now it is impossible to predict how events will play out and whether any of the characters will find what they desire. It’s beautifully written, as ever, and shows us still more of the characters and their world.

Hand of the King’s Evil (Outremer Series, Book 5) 5/6 at Amazon US
Hand of the King’s Evil (Outremer) 3/3 at Amazon US
Chaz Brenchley’s website

Book review: Chaz Brenchley — Outremer 4/6: Feast of the King’s Shadow

It’s surprisingly tricky to review the later books in the series without giving too much away, in large part because the whole thing should really be regarded as a single long novel. Nevertheless, here’s the review of part four. I finished part five last night; *late* last night, because I could not put it down. Part five review will probably follow later today.
As the fourth volume opens, the little group of travellers finally reaches the safety of the desert city of Rhabat, and the council of the sheiks. But safety only for a little while, before the ‘ifrits make their presence felt. Again, Brenchley draws on the real world to form a solid foundation for his creation, with his depiction of the city carved from living rock.

The are two main plot threads running through this volume; one the growing love and friendship between various characters, the other the shifting balance between war and peace as Hasan tries to unite the Sharai tribes for war against the Outremer states, and the King’s Shadow and Ruban of Surayon try to dissuade them from war. But the future war is forgotten for a little while, as both sides make common cause to defend Rhabat from an enemy deadly to all.

Both plot threads come together around Julianne. The King’s Shadow is quite willing to use his own daughter in persuit of his cause, recognising the strong mutual attraction between Julianne and Hasan. Julianne finds herself with a second wedding arranged for political purposes — and a second prospective husband she is in love with, political marriage or no. But that’s far less complicated than the emotions swirling around Marron…

As with the previous volumes, much of the appeal of the series lies in the complex characters. They mostly try to do the right thing, at least by their own moral codes, but don’t always succeed. They’re human and have human failings, and one of the things the series shows is that moral codes can be different and not perfectly compatible, — and not always perfectly followed even by people who try to do so. It’s easy to become attached to these people, wanting to know what happens next and hoping for a good outcome for them all. But there are no guarantees here; characters die, and not just redshirts introduced as cannon fodder. It makes for a reading experience that is sometimes painful, but certainly intense.

Feast of the King’s Shadow (Outremer) 2/3 at Amazon UK
Outremer #4: Feast Of The King’s Shadow (Outremer, 4) 4/6 at Amazon US
Chaz Brenchley’s website

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