Wednesday 8 May 2013

The Exiled Blade

Jon Courtenay Grimwood, 2013
(April 2013)

So for all that I was patting myself on the back about getting the references (well, a reference) last time out, it took me a worryingly long time to realize that this was pretty much Hamlet with werewolves.

The shtick for the Assassini series, in case you don’t remember, is that it’s is a riff on various Shakespeare plays with a bit of supernatural jiggery-pokery thrown in. The man himself wasn’t averse to a bit of that, so it’s fair enough. After Othello played itself out halfway through ‘Act Two’, I’d figured we were now heading well off-piste and were just going to play fast and loose with bits and bobs from The Tempest and Romeo and Juliet. While that’s true (Giulietta’s escapade with some poison is very nicely done), I completely missed that when the Moor died the Prince picked up the story pretty much straight away. Can’t do low-brow, can’t do high-brow, can dance a little.

Like the source stageplays, Grimwood does the intimate and personal very well. The politicking, intrigues, and backstabbing all play out convincingly and compellingly. On the flip side the big set-piece battle towards the end falls a little flat, to be honest, but he has the sense to bring it all up close again for the finale with Not Hamlet, “muttering to himself, a stuttery two-way conversation about how strange life was and how death was going to be even stranger.” Which you’d realize, if you were paying greater attention than I was, is really the only way it could have gone.

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