Faith will not save him
Saker looks like a simple priest, but in truth he’s a spy for the head of his faith. It’s a dangerous job, and more lives than merely his own depend on his secrecy.
When Saker is wounded by a Lascar sailor’s blade, the weapon seems to follow him home. Unable to discard it, nor the sense of responsibility that comes with it, Saker can only follow its lead.
It will put him on a journey to strange shores, on a path that will reveal terrible secrets about the empire, about the people he saves, and likely lead to his own destruction. The Lascar’s dagger demands a price, and that price will be paid in blood.
Reviewed by Ryan Frye
From the blurb provided above, I honestly had some doubts about reading Glenda Larke’s The Lascar’s Dagger. Buzz words like spies, magical daggers, and empires harboring dark secrets give rise to a few red flags for this reviewer. I’ve never gotten into the whole bad-ass hooded assassin thing. And empires/kingdoms with dark secrets, and sketchy politics have become ubiquitous within the epic fantasy genre. As a result, I try to outright avoid, or at least limit to some degree those genre themes in my fantasy reading. That being said, I’d read some positive reviews of the book from trusted sources, and I had a feeling that I needed to give this book a shot. I’m glad I listened to that feeling.
Right out the gate, Larke does a number of things right. If I’m going to enjoy a book it needs compelling characters, and The Lascar’s Dagger is full of them. Nearly every person I encountered while reading the book, from the characters like Saker with lots of page-time, all the way down to those with only a line or two of dialog, felt like real fleshed out people. The characters that populate these pages are nuanced, interesting, and their actions never felt like devices just to move the story along.
Saker, the aforementioned spy who works directly for the Pontifect, the head of the faith of which about half the world’s population follows, stands out immediately. From the back blurb, and from his own thoughts regarding himself, I was led to believe that he is kind of a bad-ass, but in fact that’s not necessarily the case. He’s a bit of a bumbler, often short-sighted, and reactionary. In other words, he acts like I’d expect a young man his age to act (he’s in his mid-twenties for most of the book), his age and lack of real world experience dictate a lot of his decisions and actions.
One of Saker’s main tasks during the narrative is to be the spiritual advisor to the Prince and Princess of the kingdom of Ardrone. Ardrone is one of two primary kingdoms in the Va-Cherished hemisphere in the world of the Forsaken Lands series. Ardrone is in direct economic competition with its neighboring country, the Regality of Lowmeer. Both countries are in the midst of their own little age of exploration and Lowmeer has recently discovered a new shipping route to the Va-Forsaken lands, where most of the world’s spices come from, a potentially lucrative discovery that would drastically shift the balance of power within the Va-Cherished hemisphere.
While on his “advisory” mission in Ardrone, Saker is meant to spy on a number of things, including the King’s plans regarding the economic climate, potential nuptials for Princess Mathilda, and the goings on of one Valerian Fox – regional head of the Va-Faith. While on this mission, many of the book’s other principle characters come to the forefront while Saker struggles to uh, separate business from pleasure…
It is in the discovery and exploration of the full cast of characters that really sets The Lascar’s Dagger apart. Everyone in this book is working their own agendas and they collide in very interesting and engaging ways. The princess Mathilda and her handmaid Sorrel Redwing are two of the most interesting characters I’ve come across recently, and their relationship is anything but normal, and their interactions play out in some extremely interesting ways. Larke manages to explore each character in the book to a satisfying depth, while still leaving hints that there’s more digging to be done, a quality that made me eager to read on in the series.
The book doesn’t only excel in the character department. Larke’s plot is gripping too. There’s a good helping of political intrigue, and Larke manages to make those elements complex, while not being convoluted or confusing. The titular dagger throws a nice monkey wrench into the works, and in some small, and sometimes big, way manages to affect every element of the novel. A welcome layer of awesomeness.
Another positive the novel is the Va Faith itself. I honestly can’t think of a fantasy novel that I’ve read with a central religion or faith that is as interesting or as well done as this. The Va Faith has regional nuances, extreme sects, and political meddling that makes it seem very real and relatable. Additionally, the Va Faith provides a magical element to the books that I really enjoyed. A few lucky faithful can be granted a singular magical skill by the unseen guardian of the shrines at which the followers worship. These talents are limited, rare, and fairly specific. Overall, a nice addition to the story that I’m excited to see fleshed out in further volumes.
Overall, The Lascar’s Dagger is a great read. The pacing is great, with plenty of action and swagger. While I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this book, Larke left plenty of hints that there’s greater depth to the characters, the world and the story to be found in later volumes. If you are looking for a new epic fantasy series that will engage, entertain (and maybe even enthrall you) in equal measures, then Larke’s your author and The Forsaken Lands is your series.