- The Moonsteel Crown
Author: Stephen Deas
- Series: Dominion
- ISBN: 9780857668769
- Published: February 2021
- Pages: 363
- Format reviewed: Paperback
- Review date: 09/02/2021
- Language: English
Life in a Fantasy novel is often epic. A grand journey to destroy a ring or a fight to the death against an invading force. Our heroes rush from one end of the land on a mission, but if you look behind them you may see some of the normal people pass in a blur. The shopkeepers, the local police, the thieves, the lowly priests. They are just background colour for our protagonist’s painting, but what if we stopped and looked at the everyman in Fantasy for a change? What happens to three people just trying to stay alive in a miserable city?
One is a disgraced warrior Monk; one is a fallen Priest and the other is a very accomplished thief. All three find themselves peripheral parts of The Unrulys, a gang that roams the streets of Varr on the lookout for an easy score. When the group leader, Blackhand, overstretches himself the gang suddenly find themselves on the radar of more than just the local constables. An Emporer has been murdered and somehow The Unrulys have become involved. Can Myla, Seth and Fings successfully exit the gang before the whole lot of them are swept up in events?
One of the greatest things about being a fan of a genre is finding books that explore the tropes. Fantasy is rife with them, but we love them so. Stephen Deas is an accomplished writer and in The Moonsteel Crown the author chooses to examine the genre from a different angle. Rather than concentrating on nobles and Emperors, we are lying in the gutter and staring up at the stars. The characters in this book have no interest in prophecies and powerplays, just where their next meal is coming from and not being dead by nightfall.
Even with such lowly characters, Deas could have chosen the usual fantasy route of taking them on a legendary journey, but, at least for book one, he chooses not to. The book is refreshingly set in just one city and its outskirts during the cold winter in which the great and the good have fled for sunnier climes, leaving the dregs to struggle through. The city of Varr has a depressed and dirty feel that reminds you of Terry Pratchett’s Ankh-Morpork and the book even has a humour like the Discworld novels, but this is a far darker and cynical sense of fun.
What makes Moonsteel so enjoyable is the three main characters. The only slightly heroic one is Myla who still tries to stick to her training and only kills by accident half the time. Seth and Fings are less straight, but lovable for it. Fings is a thief and he knows it. The issue he has is that everyone else does as well, so no one trusts him. Amusingly, many of the best parts of the book come about because he should not be trusted.
I found the character of Seth the most interesting. In many ways because he is the least sympathetic. Trained as a Priest, he was unable to keep his job as he would not stop asking questions. He has a knack of annoying everyone he meets, apart from his lifelong friend Fings. As the story progresses it is Seth who develops the most. His research leads down a dark path that would make most people would turn about. The delightful thing is that Seth instead embraces the information he finds and goes on an amusing side mission of testing out long forgotten runes on unsuspecting people.
By centring the novel on only three characters and one city, Deas has been able to create a tight story that does not suffer from the bloated nature that some fantasy has. It is the equivalent of a pulp crime story set within a Fantasy book. It has the ambiguous characters and dark humour of vintage noir, but also serves fans of magic and fantasy world building. This is an ideal novel for a Fantasy fan who wants something different to break up the ten-volume tome they are working through. It is a perfect palette cleanser, whilst remaining a true Fantasy novel.
Written on 9th February 2021 by Sam Tyler .