The Fallen Blade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
I first came across Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s work with his Arabesk trilogy; set in the almost-fictitious El Iskandryia. I say “almost” because, surely, this is Alexandria seen through the lens Grimwood’s imagination. Since then, I have pounced on each of his books as they came off the press although for me, none have lived up to those first three novels until I read this one: “The Fallen Blade” set in a Venice which never existed in our universe.
In “The Fallen Blade” we see a world in which Tamburlaine conquered China. And now, astonishingly, a Mamluk, a Turk, has become one of the Council of Ten in control of the city of Venice. This is a Venice ruled by the descendants of Marco Polo and a Venice – like our Renaissance city of the same name – where trade is all important to keep the city’s lifeblood flowing.
The City is stalked by the shape-changing krieghund and rule is enforced by the Assassini led by Atilo surprised by beautiful Tycho, a sort-of-vampire boy struggling to remember his past – agile enough to outrun any pursuit and fast enough to evade a plunging dagger. For Atilo, the perfect candidate to become his apprentice Assassin.
But what a backdrop against which to paint this tale. A Venice as dark as anything Grimwood has ever written and as sweetly tempting as a succubus; it draws the reader onward until the weird seems normal and the normal merely banal. We willingly suspend disbelief. Were the Renaissance centuries as careless of human life as this? Were lives as casually tossed aside as this? Were children used so? Did those born to high position consider they were so far above the ordinary man?
“The Fallen Blade” would certainly have us believe so and I fancy too, that he is correct. One only has to compare his writing with the cruelty still rife in the 21st Century to feel that it could only have been worse. I felt the sun had never risen above the horizon from start to finish – in his universe or in mine.
You will want to know what happened to Tycho. You think I will tell you? Oh no, you must read the book and ultimately, the second and third in the trilogy.