Beneath an Opal Moon by Eric Van Lustbader (Sunset Warrior Cycle #4)

This is the fourth book in Eric Van Lustbader's Sunset Warrior Cycle and with it we return to the fantastic world of the Sunset Warrior, a place of exotic sword and sorcery action.

The story's protagonist, Moichi-Annai-Nin, a navigator and 'blood brother' to the Sunset Warrior, is cooling his heels in the wondrously chaotic metropolis of Sha'angh'sei after having participated in the Kai Fang, the last battle for humankind. Moichi's reverie however is brought to a harsh end when he is asked by a friend, and the regent of the city, Aerent, to investigate a series of brutal deaths. Along the way Moichi meets the beautiful and enigmatic Aufeya, who is linked to both the victims and murderers, and the brave Bujun warrior Chiisai. Moichi's adventures take him, Aufeya and Chiisai to exotic lands to confront a mad sorceress, Sardonyx, and the struggle to possess a powerful magical artifact, the fabled Firemask.

I thought the story began well. I love the exotic setting that is Sha'angh'sei, a huge city and melting pot of cultures, predominantly oriental, which Lustbader's brilliant writing brings to vivid life. The action in the book bears Lustbader's hallmark of being brutal and bloody and the author keeps it coming thick and fast. However, if the story had matched the pace of the violence then I suspect it would have been a corker. Unfortunately, it didn't.

Sadly, somewhere between the descriptions of places, people and food the story slowed to a plod and ran out steam, so that I didn't feel kept on the 'edge of my seat' with suspense but left wondering when we were going to get to the real adventure. The quest for the Firemask, supposedly the meat of the story, only occupied the last few chapters of the book and the characterization of the female protagonists was also clichéd and degrading with virtually all of them depicted as feminine porn icons - beautiful and curvaceous albeit lethal! By the time I got to the end of the story not only was I bewildered but I also left feeling unsatisfied by the lack of real paced adventure, a bit like having a nibble and a sip instead of being well fed and watered.

I would describe Beneath an Opal Moon as swords and sorcery with a strong oriental, martial arts flavour. It has also the standard early Lustbader ingredients of well-drawn descriptions of people and places and nobody does violence better but, in terms of a pacey adventure, this book left me wanting.

6/10 In terms of a pacey adventure, this book left me wanting.

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