Half-vampire Darwin stumbles across a corpse on the streets of London, and in a pocket discovers a notebook in a mysterious language. Divided between human ethics and vampire blood lust, Darwin finds himself both condemner and saviour of a race who’ve never considered him one of their own. Now, he must try and lead the survivors to sanctuary in New Salisbury before Mr West completes his genocide of the vampires in his quest to obtain the book…
Maureen Summerglass is eighty-two years old, a prisoner in her ramshackle home. She is afraid to let people enter in case they discover the oak door in her cellar. Threatened with homelessness and retirement from her job as a gatekeeper between worlds, Maureen breaks protocol when the death of a close friend is covered up… and enters the city of New Salisbury to search for his missing notebook. There, she discovers a world unlike the one of myth and fairy tale she imagined, and instead one of black market economies, brand names and tuk tuks. As she investigates, not only is she in extreme danger, but discovers she may be the first human female able to use magic…
So you want to write a novel. You want to write an urban fantasy novel. In said novel you want to include vampires, but you think that been done to death (pun intended) so you need a hook, something fresh, something new. What do you do? Well, if you’re Adrian Faulkner, you make your heroine an 82-year-old woman and you let her kick some ass. Yes, you didn’t see that one coming did you? Neither did I. Oh, I knew it—I’d read the cover copy after all. But knowing a thing and knowing a thing to be true, are two different things. To my amazement, Faulkner pulled it off and his Maureen is completely believable, I never doubted her being old, but I never thought what she was able to do was unbelievable in the context of the world Faulkner created in The Four Realms.
In his guest post earlier this week the author explained how he came to write Maureen and while I can definitely see the influences, Maureen is a unique character. Irascible and stubborn, she’s also very lonely, a fact underlined by the fact that the beings she talks to most often in the book are her cats and the troll who guards the other side of the gate in her cellar. There seems to be an underlying dissatisfaction with her life, so that when Ernest, one of her few true friends, is murdered and her life is shaken to its foundations, she decides to abandon her life-long caution and just follow her heart and her instincts. Of course, the habits formed over a lifetime are hard to shake and I loved how Faulkner has Maureen half-heartedly try to talk some sense into herself, before just going off and do whatever dangerous thing she’s decided she must do.
The dangers Maureen marches off into are mostly located in Venefasia, the otherworld on the other side of the oak door in Maureen’s cellar. Together with Joseph she hunts for Ernest’s killers and the notebook everyone seems to be looking for. Maureen and Joseph are a fantastic duo and Maureen’s old-timer disdain for foul language and bad manners are often quite funny. The two of them run into a wide array of folk, ranging from elves to dwarves to even more outlandish races, but the ones that seem to upset Maureen the most are the hidebound and rather patriarchal inhabitants of the Friary. These are the human wizards that can use the mana in Venefasia to perform magic, a magic thought to be beholden only to men. Maureen shows them all wrong, much to her own amazement and seeing her come to terms with the realities of the situation and her abilities was a treat.
The other main storyline was set in our own world and followed another duo, this time the teenage half-vampire Darwin and his friend Cassidy, who has an interesting history all of her own. They are the ones who find the notebook and have to deal with the fallout of being chased by the mysterious Mr West, a Chtulhu-like creature masquerading as human, and his compatriots who want to get their hands – or is that tentacles – on that book more than anything. If The Four Realms had any major weakness it’s Darwin. While not unsympathetic, there were times, more numerous than perhaps desirable, when he came across as extremely whiney; not just in an ‘I’m an adolescent boy with a troubled youth finding it hard to find my way in life’-way, but also just in a childish, woe-is-me kind of way that gets annoying in anyone after about five minutes. As a result he treats Cassidy rather crappily and I just wanted to slap some sense into him. Darwin oscillates between a competent, confident youth, who takes care of his friends and a depressed wreck alternately mewling and lashing out and he does so in a not quite believable manner.
I did like Cassidy a lot, however, and I hope that in a future book we’ll find out more about her past, as I’m curious what exactly caused her state and what she can and can’t do. Of course, I also hope we find out what happens to Maureen and her new found abilities and to the remnants of the vampires and Darwin. And last but not least, I hope we see more of Mr West, who was an interesting villain, not least because of the way Faulkner made his story about discovering the joys of being human and being subject to chance and probability.
Faulkner’s debut managed to deliver a host of interesting and some downright compelling characters, packaged in a competent, if not always super complicated, plot and I enjoyed myself immensely reading it. It’s an urban fantasy novel with a twist and filled with a lot of great humour, though I realise that humour is very subjective. If you’re looking for a fun, diverting read, The Four Realms is just the ticket.
This book was provided for review by the author.