BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In a cold, cold winter, the fate of Venice hangs in the balance as Emperors and Princes scheme.
PROS: Wonderful worldbuilding and character development; excellent action set pieces; engrossing universe.
CONS: A Chekov’s Gun of a plot line is seemingly dropped without a whimper; one new plotline regarding Tycho seems a bit grafted on and not inorganic.
BOTTOM LINE: A conclusion to the Assassini series that leaves the reader and the world with room for more.
A cold winter comes across Europe, cold enough to freeze rivers and lakes south of the Alps. The failure of the Byzantine navy to conquer Venice now means that the Holy Roman Emperor might take a crack at adding Venice to his possessions. Marco the Simpleton doesn’t seem so simple as people thought, and how is THAT going to drive those who truly seek to rule venice, his mother Alexa, and his uncle, Alonzo? And just how is Giulietta and Tycho going to navigate their relationship, and Tycho’s new but uncertain position at court. He still has those hungers, after all, too. In this cold winter, the fate of Venice, and those within it, hang in the balance.
The Exiled Blade is the third and final novel in Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s Assassini series. (The previous novels, The Fallen Blade and The Outcast Blade were reviewed by me here at SF Signal.) In a world where creatures of the night, krieghund (werewolves) and other magical things impinge upon a Venice ruled by the descendants of Marco Polo, the conflict between the Holy Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire and Venice comes to a final conclusion. So, too, the long standing conflict in the House of the Millioni itself, as Duke Alonzo and Duchess Alexa’s struggle to control the throne (held by Marco the Simpleton) drives the internal action of the city in twain.
The novel is grounded in the characters, in the circles and connections of the conflicts that have built and grown over the series. The author uses a definite pattern repeated up and down the series on various scales and it provides a rich tapestry of connections for the author to work with. There is the relationship between Giuletta and the mysterious Tycho, and the men who stand between them, in this volume, namely, Prince Frederick. Duchess Alexa and Prince Alonzo have their longstanding relationship and conflict, with Marco standing between them. This even works on the level of nations as characters, as the Holy Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire squabble, with Venice in between them. And these conflicts and relationships grow and develop their participants. None of the characters are unchanged by the events of the series, and this book, and in some cases, there is drastic change and development. Grimwood is not afraid to hurt his darlings.
The worldbuilding is my favorite part of the novel, just as much as the characters and their relationships. We really get a look behind the veil and just how magical and unusual this world really is. What I appreciate most is that the idea of a magical medieval-renaissance Europe in this time period, isn’t all that commonly done like this. The Heirs of Alexandria series from Lackey, Freer and Flint comes to mind, as does John Ford’s The Dragon Waiting (the book that I keep thinking of when reading the Assassini) but, otherwise, this is a universe where the magical elements impinge, but in the end do not overdrive the plot. The plot is driven by the character conflict, but the krieghund, sorcerous creatures,and magic sure give that character conflict a flavor that I find favor with. I immersed myself into this world and am sad that the trilogy is, for me, now over.
With that, there are a couple of things that bothered me. We do get revelations of a sort, of who and what Tycho really is. While I appreciated this, that revelation felt a little bolted onto the rest of the book and the series. It does and did clear up a lot of the mystery as to who and what Tycho really is (and boy, was I way off), but I think it could have been integrated a bit better into matters than was handled. The other thing that bothered me is that there is a Chekov’s gun of a plot thread that has been running through the novels (especially since the second) that, in the end, seems to misfire in the denouement. In truth, it surprised me greatly, since the signs throughout the series seemed to point squarely at that aspect of the ending, and the matter seems to be dropped without much fanfare. Aside from those niggles, the novel and series has a proper and well done ending. There is blood, and sacrifice, heroism, villainy, revelations and set-piece action that will satisfy any reader and then some.
One last bit that I should mention. One of the minor characters we meet in The Exiled Blade, the new captain of the Palace Guard, has a very familiar name: Captain Weimer. Indeed, dear reader, Captain Weimer is a tuckerized version of myself. The sequence of events that led to a version of me winding up in the novel would bore you, suffice it to say, I was delighted to find that Captain Weimer appeared in the book. Does Captain Weimer live, or die heroically (or ignominiously!) in the course of events? I leave that for you, the reader, to discover, along with the many other delights in the novel.
If Grimwood has any desire to revisit this universe, perhaps in another part of the world, I would be most happen to return to this universe. Even with the revelations and events in this trilogy, its clear there is a wilder, wider world out there waiting for future exploration, if the author should desire.