In a time before our own, wandering bard Talus and his companion Bran journey to the island realm of Creyak, where the king has been murdered.
From clues scattered among the island’s mysterious barrows and stone circles, they begin their search for his killer. Nobody is above suspicion, from the king’s heir to the tribal shaman, from the woman steeped in herb-lore to the visiting warlord. And when death strikes again, Talus and Bran realise nothing is what it seems. Creyak is a place of secrets and spirits, mystery and myth. It will take a clever man indeed to unravel the truth. The kind of man this ancient world has not seen before.
Graham Edwards’ Talus and the Frozen King combines three of my favourite genres into one fascinating tale. The book is a historical crime fantasy, set in an era which I’d not read any books in since reading the first four books in Jean M. Auel’s Children of the Earth series, the Neolithic. As such is more fantasy than historical fiction, a fact corroborated by the author in his Author’s Note, since there just isn’t enough historic fact to create anything but speculative fiction. The Neolithic island community of Creyak did make for an interesting setting and created the ideal stage for what is essentially a locked room mystery. Living on an island without easy access to the main land, means that the murderer is most likely a member of the community.
Every crime novel needs a detective and Edwards provides him in the person of Talus the bard. Talus is a detective very much in the mould of Sherlock Holmes and Monk. He’s idiosyncratic, brilliant, not always easy to deal with, curious to the point of obliviousness, and ultimately always solves the puzzle or the crime. Talus is an old soul. While his age is never stated, he feels like an older person; he’s travelled widely, he’s balding, and he seems to be able to easily project and receive authority. And he’s quite the philosopher; he spends a lot of time thinking about what he sees and about human nature. I liked that Edwards chose to make him a bard, because he’s got the gift of the gab and it creates an easy entry into the various communities he encounters.
Every detective needs his sidekick, which in this case was provided by the ex-fisherman Barn. I liked Bran a lot. He’s a sounding board for Talus, an assistant and his friend. He is also very much the emotional heart of the novel. While Talus is brilliant, Bran is the one to recognise human connections, while struggling with getting his own feelings under control. Because Bran is still very traumatised by the loss of his beloved wife and trying to find an answer to the question of how to give meaning to his life. His connection to Lethriel, the village herb-mistress, initially due to her resemblance to his late wife and later because they genuinely form a friendship created an interesting dynamic in the relationship between Talus and Bran, when Talus enlist her as another of his assistants.
Every book needs an interesting plot. The one in Talus and the Frozen King is intricate, especially as it’s very much a case of Talus and Bran having to unravel the complicated (family) dynamics and history of the Creyak settlement. The one thing that nagged at me was the fact that Talus being a Sherlock-like deductive detective meant that as the reader you are constantly put on the back foot. I never had a sense of what or how he’d reached a conclusion or who’d be the killer. Normally I enjoy being surprised, but in this case I wasn’t so much surprised by the plot twists as confused by the lack of clues to form my own suspicions. The only thing that helped me was the fact that Bran often felt much the same and said so in the passages written from his point of view.
The writing was solid with some beautiful passages and some deeply thoughtful considerations on the nature of love, life and death. These somewhat philosophical questions are posed by the various characters to themselves, to others, and of course indirectly to the reader. Answers are suggested or hinted at, but never set in stone. It was this aspect, combined with the Neolithic setting and its crime focus that made me really enjoy Talus and the Frozen King and I hope this was just the first instalment in a series. I’d love to see what else Talus and Bran will come across as they journey farther north towards the Northern Lights.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.