You know you’re going to enter a complex world when the book begins with an extensive dramatis personae. Den Patrick keeps this promise with his richly-imagined Demesne – a land not unlike an alternative Renaissance Italy. It definitely has all the power-broking and rivalry, intrigues and plots of that period.
Our central character, Lucien, is an eighteen year old Orfano determined to unravel the truth at the centre of everything. And what a dreadful truth it is. (No spoilers!) The story isn’t suitable for young readers – or anyone easily horrified. However, the violence and language are not inappropriate to the story when you consider the plot includes murder and abduction.
In contrast with those, look out for both sharp-witted verbal humour and perhaps surprisingly tender romance. It would most certainly pass the Bechdel test as a film: female characters are independent, well-drawn and just plain interesting.
The writing style is ornate, as suits the era, but there’s plenty of incident, peril and intrigue to keep the plot going. The end is satisfying in its own right – so I was slightly surprised that there are further books to come. What Den has done, cleverly, is to take a different major character as the focus of each of the next two tales. So anyone who loves Landfall can find out what happens there next in The Boy Who Wept Blood (2015) and then The Girl on the Liar's Throne.
An intricate, dark and self-contained fantasy.
KM Lockwood, 9/10
Lucien de Fontein has grown up different. One of the mysterious and misshapen Orfano who appear around the Kingdom of Landfall, he is a talented fighter yet constantly lonely, tormented by his deformity, and well aware that he is a mere pawn in a political game. Ruled by an insane King and the venomous Majordomo, it is a world where corruption and decay are deeply rooted - but to a degree Lucien never dreams possible when he first discovers the plight of the 'insane' women kept in the haunting Sanatoria.
This debut novel by Den Patrick cleverly intertwines the past and present of Lucien De Fontein as he confronts the mystery and lies behind the traditions of Demense. Set on the island of Landfall, where his ancestors arrived centuries before, Lucien is one of The Orfani and because of this is given an outstanding education whilst striving to become a full fledged member of House Fontein, one of the four major houses that make up Demense. The other major houses are House Contadino, House Prospero and House Erudito. The Orfani are children born with deformities who are given respect and fear by the citizens of Demense, because of the way they suddenly appear with no explanation.
The book uses a lot of Italian words which gives the book overtones of Renaissance Italy with feudal powers and houses striving for power and status. As the book winds its story between Lucien’s life at eighteen and the struggles he has overcome from the age of eight we are drawn further into this world of intrigue with the imagery becoming quite dark and gothic. As Lucien learns the grim secrets of Demense’s hidden heart so we as readers can feel each emotion, there are still questions left at the end of the book about the world beyond Landfall, but this may be explored in further novels.
The characters surrounding Lucien fall fairly neatly into allies and enemies with Lucien having to learn to see beyond mere appearances to survive. Out of the other Orfani; Anea and Dino are written very well, in fact, the people Lucien can count on as allies all have very distinct personalities and a lot of thought and intelligence has gone into them, you can feel the characters frustrations as challenges are thrown at them, whether it is stumbling onto plots or just navigating social engagements. There are other characters, good and bad, that keep the plot going and the people Lucien can count as enemies range from nasty through to sinister.
I really enjoyed the addition of our own myths being introduced into the book, which does make you wonder what the larger world could be like. Demense feels like a society that has been stunted, after a certain period it seems like the people of Landfall just followed precedents rather than striving to be more.
The Boy with the Porcelain Blade is an intriguing novel that opens like a flower to reveal all to those who choose to read it. I felt compelled to keep reading, even if I occasionally had to put the book down as the chapters would end on a cliff hanger and the anticipation to know how bad the characters situations had become or if they would survive the next couple of pages. If Den Patrick can keep this up with future novels I would be happy to see where this leads.
Michelle Herbert, 9/10
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