By S.B. Davidson
Review by author Luis Villazon. This is a detective novel, with a fantasy setting. The city of Winter Moon is surrounded on three sides by impenetrable mountains and on the fourth by an impassable frozen sea. Its only connection to the outside world is via the magical floating city of Crystalline, which visits every six months. That provides a nicely contained stage setting for the kidnapping of the eight-year-old daughter of a wealthy merchant family. Riken Snowtear is a private detective hired to crack the case and find the girl before it’s too late.
Snowtear himself is an odd character. He is a thin, weedy, late middle-aged man who spends most of his free time drunk in whorehouses. Far from talking his way out of trouble, his constant snarkiness annoys everyone he meets and consequently he gets thumped a lot more than he needs to. He has a traumatic back story, complete with the tragic death of his sister and an unhappy love affair, but it wasn't quite enough to make me sympathise with him.
Davidson's prose style is very uneven. Much of it is unnecessarily wordy and there are times where I felt he was overreaching his own vocabulary - using "fettered" instead of "festered" and "pension" when he means "penchant”, for example. The dialogue is a jarring mix of high-fantasy "hail fellow well met", and modern swearing and apart from Snowtear himself, it feels as if all the characters talk in the same voice, whether they are high born, street urchins or barbarian chieftains. There are also an enormous number of the sort of typos that a spell checker won’t help you with, and the whole book feels as if it has never been proof read.
Despite all this, the detective story is actually quite compelling. The city of Winter Moon feels alive and bustling, the history, races and customs of the world are introduced subtly and without exposition. And there are tantalising references to an intriguing system of magic. The pages fly by as you follow the trail of clues and uncover a very nasty secret. But then, quite suddenly, you find yourself in the middle of the book with the crime essentially solved. The second half turns into a D&D romp, as Snowtear attempts a daring rescue mission. His moral outrage at the abduction of a young girl seems rather at odds with his enthusiastic and regular use of young prostitutes, and the band of adventurers he recruits to help seem to have even less motivation for such a dangerous quest. They are the usual RPG stereotypes - the gentle giant, the foxy female assassin, the taciturn blade-master - and their opponents are generic warrior tribesmen from any 1980s Conan film. As soon as the action moves outside the city, the environments feel less well realised and it feels as if Davidson is rushing us through to get to the climax. When it arrives, it is rather disappointing and I would have preferred the pages spent on more plot twists within the city walls instead.
The book is billed as the first of the "Snowtear Chronicles". The next instalment will need a much tighter grip on the prose and the dialogue, and a story that concentrates on Snowtear’s skills as a detective, rather than his dubious qualifications as an adventurer.
Written on 11th April 2012 by Luis.