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It's a fantasy novel, the fourth in the Bronze Knight Saga by fantasy author John Marco. The forever knight is our protagonist Lukien, made immortal or invincible or at least not dead by the Akari spirit Malator who inhabits Lukien's sword.
All Freudian giggles aside, this dynamic duo does offer us a solid pair of personalities to follow as they endure some intense battles against creepy monsters (and creepier humans) and a number of knight errant-ish journeys through the Bitter Kingdoms.
I'll start by saying that I’m not sure how valid my insights may be since fantasy is not my usual fare. That being the ground from which I write, here goes.
I was fascinated by the imagination it requires to put such a novel together and I enjoyed reading a different, for me, genre. The straightforward storytelling in The Forever Knight moves along at a good clip and I wanted to know what would happen next—a good feature of any book.
Some of the descriptions were compelling, for example on p. 28, of what it’s like crossing the desert. This didn’t seem like fantasy but something written by a person who’d been there, done that. Lukien observes:
“The worst part about crossing a desert isn’t the heat. It’s not the way the flies eat your skin or the fear of running out of water, either. The problem is how small it makes you feel. Anyone who’s done it knows what I mean. Once you’ve traveled for just a few hours, you look back and see nothing. And when you look ahead you see nothing, and you keep looking and looking and there’s nothing. There’s just sand and dunes and the horizon. There’s a fever that sets in when all you see is desert. If a man isn’t careful, it can madden him.”The story of the monster/beast and of the warring nations is little different from other tales, but the way that Marco puts it together kept me motivated.
I found a couple of aspects a little distracting like using words that were specific to this world but not explicated (p. 34 “drowa” for example) and the occasional use of modern diction seemed a little out of place to me. For instance, it didn’t seem that a knight would be using contemporary terminology, as in a conversation between Lukien and Cricket:
“If he touches me again I’ll bite his hand off,” she hissed.Somehow the "Deal? Deal." felt too modern day for The Forever Knight and his cohort.
“Tell you what—you control yourself, and I will too. Deal?”
“Deal,” she agreed” (130)
I had a question for John Marco: was it challenging or playfully satisfying to choose names for the principles and places? Is that part of the fun of writing fantasy? I found the names themselves intriguing.
In the end, I enjoyed spending time following Lukien around with his adventures, violent though many of them were. His touching relationship with Cricket had just the right amount of tension for me. Malator was the encourager, alter ego, friend, savior we might all like to have in our corner when the going gets rough.
On the positive side, I've read some recent fantasies with far slighter characters, and for that I congratulate Mr. Marco. Lukien, Malator, Cricket, and even a number of the supporting characters certainly grabbed my attention and empathy, keeping me turning the pages. Also, although this was the fourth in a series and unlike my mom, I had no trouble keeping up with the key conflicts, people, language, and settings.
Themes of desire (carnal and political and economic and then some) and death and determination, of loyalty and lust for power meander through this eventful story. Bloodlust and pride and greed and anger guide many characters. Others seem to simply follow their moment-to-moment desires.
In other words, this is - unexpectedly - a tale for our times. Certainly, it's a fantasy, and we know all along that our hero can't die, so some of our messy modern ambiguities needn't apply. But for bleakness and callousness and cruelty generally trumping decency, well, we can see our world in Lukien's.
For me, a quiet soul unaccustomed to the current state of the adult fantasy genre, this novel offered some challenges. First, I wasn't ready for Lukien to scream "Bitch!" or "Whore!" at his male and/or monsterly opponents when battles turned most heated. It could be typical of current fantasies, or it could be that Lukien was established as a misogynist in the earlier works in this series, so perhaps I shouldn't have felt so surprised and so uncomfortable with this practice. At any rate, it definitely had me pondering.
Also, and again this may simply be a current genre feature, I sometimes raised an eyebrow at the seemingly random nature of Akari spirit Malator's decisions about when/where/how he would help Lukien by adding bonus superpowers to the Forever Knight's arsenal. It felt somewhat like rolling the dice in ye olde game of D&D to me.
Finally, although I understand why a fantasy writer might employ a conceit like Lukien's "mostly dead but not all dead" (and then quite spectacularly, regeneratedly alive) superpower to keep the plot going, I wondered, "To what end?" If auxiliary characters hadn't stated directly that Lukien had grown as a person, I certainly wouldn't have guessed it.
All in all, I'd say that if you're already a fan of adult fantasy, you'll find this novel diverting. If you want to sample the genre, this one might be a worthy first timer too.
As ever, Mom & Me are grateful to TLC Book Tours for opportunities to sample new novels and to offer up our responses for our readers. And we're especially thankful for Mr. Marco's active involvement in this tour. We wish him all the best.
p.s. Get to know Mr. Marco at his blog, The Happy Nerd. Visiting there, I learned plenty of interesting faacts about his artistic life and his tastes. My favorite factoid? Right now, he's watching the fabulous I, Claudius TV series, rating it a 10 out of 10. I couldn't agree more: that's one stellar series based on an exquisitely well-researched and well-crafted novel! (I <3 Derek Jacobi; I <3 Robert Graves!)
Mom & Who?
Mom's a retired science librarian/tech writer in New Mexico; I'm a high school English teacher in Washington state. We share a love of our imperfectly tended gardens (OK, mine's oh so much more imperfect than hers), lifelong learning (not a day goes by...), Jacques Pepin, travel, show tunes, our two-legged and four-legged family members, and - of course - books.