Review: Talus and the Frozen King

Talus and the Frozen King by Graham Edwards

£7.99 (UK) ISBN 978-1-78108-198-3

$8 .99/$10.99 (US & CAN) ISBN 978-1-7810-8-199-0

Published by Solaris Books

TALUS AND THE FROZEN KING

 

I started to read Talus and the Frozen King right after A Discourse in Steel by Paul S. Kemp, and at first I worried it would be too similar, a fantasy buddy adventure. As it turned out, I was pleasantly surprised when I realized the book was not really an action-adventure story, but rather a murder mystery. Now, if I had read the book cover, which proclaims that the book introduces the world’s first detective, maybe I wouldn’t have been surprised, but then again I might not have given it a chance because mysteries aren’t my first choice of reading.

At its base, Talus and the Frozen King is much like a familiar Sherlock Holmes and Watson story, except in this case, Holmes is a bard named Talus and Watson a former fisherman named Bran.

Talus is emotionally-stunted but clever and insightful. Bran, his sidekick, is more rough-and-tumble. He may not figure things out as fast as Talus does, but he understands human motivations in a way the bard-sleuth does not. It’s a familiar trope but both characters are fleshed out well enough that I had as much interest in them as in solving the mystery.

The details of the world building kept me interested at first, especially as I was going into the story blind, unsure of what type of fantasy it was. Interestingly, the level of magic in the story is open to interpretation. Many of the characters believe in it, but as it is a historical fantasy, this could simply reflect that many people in our history believed in magic and spirits.

While the world-building pulled me in to the story at first, the mysteries surrounding the frozen king’s murder eventually grabbed hold of me. By the halfway point of the novel, with mystery piling on top of mystery, including those in Bran and Talus’ past, I found myself racing to the end. I’d definitely buy the next book in the series, because while the book works as a stand-alone mystery, I definitely want to know where Talus and Bran’s adventures take them next.

Reviewer’s Note: I received a review copy of this book but as always this review is my honest reaction. I use Amazon Affiliate links so if you follow the link and buy the book, I might someday make enough to afford to buy a book on Amazon. :)

The Only City Left: Part 19

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth.

If you are new to The Only City Left and want a quick catch-up, you can read a synopsis of Parts 1-17 and then jump into the story at Part 18. You can reach an individual part by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part 18, we learned that Dad Arcady had murdered his own brother, Allin’s uncle Doyle. Why!? Why would he do such a thing? Read on…

The Only City Left: Part 19

Dad, a murderer? Could he have killed his own brother? The pieces of the puzzle shuffled into place inside my drink-lined skull and fit together surprisingly well, but there were still big portions of the picture left blank.

“So let’s say you’re right. Dad kills his brother and he and Mom spend the next fifteen years on the run from … from his brother’s werewolf ghost … okay, I’m not even going to touch that one right now,” I said, shaking my head and staring into the shadowed depths of Lower Pudlington. “Neither of them ever once thought it would be a good idea to let me know what was going on?”

“Fratricide is not exactly the type of thing you brag about to your son,” Emperor Banshee explained. “Perhaps when they thought you old enough, they would have laid the whole story out for you.”

I turned my head to one side and stared at the battle-scarred hulk of a cat. “I’m old enough now.”

“Just so,” he declared in his bass growl.

“Then hit me with it,” I requested, steeling myself.

Banshee nodded and beckoned for Tumble and me to continue moving.

“Your uncle, Doyle Arcady, is and always was an evil man,” he explained. “But in his youth, he was nothing more than the leader of a gang of punks, a gang which included Dylan, your father.”

We passed through an entire floor of one building and then took a series of ramps and ladders upwards.

“If he had only remained a small-time punk with small-time ambitions, this story might have turned out very different. But Doyle’s ambitions changed after he became a werewolf.” Banshee paused in his climb up a ladder and looked down at me. “Are you familiar with the legends of the werewolves, Allin?”

“I’ve heard stories over the years,” I replied quickly. “Humans transforming into wolves by the light of the full moon and all that. Kind of hard to pull off when there’s hundreds of levels of concrete and steel between you and the nearest moonlight.”

Banshee nodded and continued his climb.

“And yet you do not doubt their existence.”

“Not after Glin’s, no. The legends may be wrong, but werewolves do exist.”

Banshee reached the top of the ladder and waited on a small platform for Tumble and me to catch up.

“Ah, but what if the legends are true? How can you reconcile the existence of werewolves with the absence of the moon? Simple. If you can’t see the moon, you bring a bit of the moon to wherever you are. In this case, a device that emits moonlight, even in the depths of the city. Voilà. Instant werewolf.”

Banshee gestured for us to follow him up a ramp that led to the roof of the building we had walked through earlier.

“Of course, moonlight itself isn’t enough. You have to be infected first, through the bite of another werewolf.”

We stepped off the ramp into a beautiful garden overrun with flowering bushes and took a narrow path that led in toward the center. Banshee plucked one of the crimson flowers as he passed, sniffed it, and let it fall to the ground.

“When Doyle was bitten and given the technology to allow him to transform, he went from minor inconvenience to major threat. He transformed more of his gang, and their reach expanded into the surrounding sectors. Anyone, at any time, could be disappeared by Doyle’s gang. There were rumors of … atrocities. Whole communities that were taken and never heard from again.”

I thought of Glin’s Rising and wondered how far over the city Doyle’s shadow had spread by now.

“So Dad tried to put a stop to him?”

Banshee pondered my question, taking a few steps away before turning to face me.

“Reports are sketchy at best, and this is all second- and third-hand information,” he explained. “But there was apparently quite some time between Doyle’s transformation and the time your father killed him and fled.”

“How long is ‘quite some time’?”

“Somewhere on the order of two or three years.”

That news turned my stomach. Banshee was dancing around it, but if Doyle was doing all these evil things and Dad stuck with him for that long, what kind of person did that make Dad?

“So what happened?” I asked. “What changed?”

“A woman entered the picture. Someone who Doyle claimed as his own, as he had done many times before. This time was different, though. Dylan had feelings for this woman, whose name was Jessie.”

Mom. I remembered the conversation she had with Dad before we returned to Glin’s Rising for the final time. What was it he had said to her? Would you rather I had left you with him?

“He killed his brother to save my mom?”

“Yes, he did. Unfortunately for us all, it didn’t stick. Whoever provided Doyle with the werewolf tech had also gifted him with a Lazarus swarm that allowed him to live on as a ghost after his murder.”

We reached a circular courtyard with stone benches. Banshee lowered himself onto one of them with a sigh and I stood before him. Tumble walked around, trimming dead flowers off the bushes.

“So Mom and Dad took off, and Doyle chased after them for years. But they’re dead now. He got his revenge. Why is he still coming after me?”

“Murder was only one of your father’s crimes against Doyle. The other was the theft of two of those rare and valuable devices that allow the werewolves to transform. Perhaps that is why he follows you yet.”

“If Dad had anything like that, he never showed it to me.”

Banshee pointed to my chest and I looked down at the lantern coil hanging from my necklace.

“Why, Allin, you’re wearing it at this very moment.”

* * *

You can read my notes on Part 19 or continue on to Part 20 post-haste!

6/24/12 News: So, we get some background on Doyle Arcady and werewolves in today’s installment, and the revelation that Allin’s Dad had something of a checkered past. Also, Allin’s Mom gets a name, finally. If there’s one thing I have learned from this writing adventure, get people’s names out there ASAP. Inserting them into conversation later can be awkward.

Re: the lantern coil: When I am writing and especially when I am trying to build suspense or keep things mysterious, I sometimes have trouble putting myself in the shoes of a reader who doesn’t know what I am planning with the story. I wonder what they see coming a hundred miles a way and what surprises them. I suspect that it may have been clear for some time now that Allin’s coil can be used by a werewolf who needs moonlight to transform, but hopefully you understand why Allin didn’t realize, or didn’t want to accept it.

If you enjoyed this post, please click the image below to give The Only City Left a vote on Top Web Fiction. (One vote allowed per week.)

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Logo Credit:The TOCL logo is courtesy of Jande Rowe of the webcomic Aedre’s Firefly. If you haven’t already read AF, I encourage you to go check it out. Not only does Jande produce the comic, she reviews other long-form webcomics, gives tips and instructions on creating a comic, and is endlessly supportive of other creators. For a great review that will bring you up to speed on Aedre’s Firefly, check out this page at Webcomic Alliance.

The Only City Left: Part 18

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth.

If you are new to The Only City Left and want a quick catch-up, you can read a synopsis of Parts 1-17. You can reach an individual part by browsing the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part Seventeen, Allin was at the darkest point in his life, as he had to watch his parents murdered before his eyes. He is finishing telling this story to an audience of cats as Part 18 begins…

The Only City Left: Part 18

“Tyena was alive. Mom and Dad had earned that much with their deaths,” I told my audience. “Together, we buried my parents in the park by the department store. There was nobody left to use it for farming anymore. After that, we risked one night in Glin’s Rising to recover from our injuries. She set my broken nose back in place (ouch!) and we cried ourselves to sleep.”

I felt detached from the story as I told it, whether due to the intervening years or the effects of the gerrybrook juice, I had no idea and I didn’t care. It made the telling easier and that was fine with me.

“The next day, I knew we had to get out of Glin’s and back on the road. We changed clothes because we were both a mess, grabbed some food, and retraced the same path I had taken with my parents the day before. Without Tyena to care for, I would have been a complete zone-out. She was in a bad way, hardly talking, only moving because I held her hand and pulled her along.

“In fact, it wasn’t until almost a week later that she really woke up, so to speak. The light inside her eyes came back on and she looked around, realized she was no place she had ever seen before. She asked me if we were almost there and what was my plan. After a little back and forth, I figured out what she meant. She thought we were following the beasts who had taken everyone from Glin’s Rising, including her mother and little brother. I had to explain that it was too late for them, that the smart move was to keep going in the directions my parents had been heading, away from the beasts.

“She disagreed. She wanted to turn around, to try to save everyone. I told her they’d kill us if we confronted them, just like they killed my parents.”

I finished my third or fourth glass of juice—I lost track somewhere along the way—and covered the empty glass with my hand when the server came by again. My story was nearly over.

“We continued like that for a couple of days, arguing the pros and cons of going back. On our last night together, we didn’t fight and we didn’t talk about our plans, we just held each other. When I woke up the next day and she was gone, I wasn’t surprised. Whatever fire had sprung up between us had been doused, stomped on, and covered in dirt by the death of my parents, the culling of her family, and her treatment at Grinty’s hands. If she wanted to follow the rest of Glin’s Rising into oblivion, I couldn’t stop her, but I wasn’t about to join in. I was going to stay alive.”

Emperor Banshee heaved a great sigh when it became clear that my continued silence signaled the end of my tale.

“It’s not your fault.”

I don’t know what I expected him to say, but it wasn’t that. “Pardon?”

“Your parents. You didn’t kill them. They were adults and they made a choice. It’s not your fault.”

“Thanks, I feel so much better now,” I spat back. “Why didn’t I ever think of that? Hey, where’s that guy with the gerrybrook juice. I could use a refill.”

I held up my glass and looked around, but as the server approached, he saw something that made him stop in his tracks and walk away. I turned around to see Banshee looming over me. He batted the empty glass out of my hand and it spiraled over the railing.

“Do not lessen their sacrifice by taking credit for their deaths,” Banshee growled, right in my face. “They fought for life. For love. They died for you, not because of you.”

He huffed and returned to his seat. I was too stunned to respond.

“Enough with the feast,” Banshee proclaimed. He eyed everyone who sat at the table, and said, “You have all heard this young man’s tale. I should hope this clears up any lingering doubts about my decision to allow him entry. Now I must share more hard truths with the boy, facts of which you are already aware. I ask that you carry forth his story to your clowders, so that all may know that the Arcady name is not wholly without merit.”

Banshee signaled for Tumble and me to remain while the rest of the cats made their way out. Several of them stopped by to mumble a few words of condolence to me, as if it were only yesterday that Mom and Dad died, but I appreciated the thought. Others only gave me sly, shifty glances, as if they feared I might attack them if they glanced away.

“What do you mean, ‘The Arcady name is not without merit?’” I asked Banshee once the last cat had departed.

“Walk with me,” he replied, ignoring my question. “I tire of sitting still.”

Banshee strode away from the table and Tumble and I were drawn into his wake. We followed him out of the feasting hall on a course that took us into Pudlington’s heights.

“You recall that I brought you to Pudlington because I learned that your uncle had picked up your trail?” Banshee asked as we walked.

I nodded. “This uncle that my parents neglected to ever mention.”

“I am not surprised. From what we can tell, your father and mother sought to insulate you from the life that they fled, in the hopes that they could keep you safe. But they never quite let go of their former lives, and your uncle, your father’s brother, certainly never let go of them.”

We stopped on a wide rope bridge between two skyscrapers and looked at the jumbled-together cat city below us.

“Why?” I asked. “Why couldn’t he have just left my parents alone?”

Banshee grimaced, revealing a row of glistening white teeth. “I suppose he never forgave your father for murdering him.”

* * *

Allin’s Dad did what now? Read Part 19 to find out more, or read my notes below first.

6/17/12 News: First off, how about that spiffy new logo for The Only City Left? It is courtesy of Jande Rowe of the webcomic Aedre’s Firefly. If you haven’t already read AF, I encourage you to go check it out. Not only does Jande produce the comic, she reviews other long-form webcomics, gives tips and instructions on creating a comic, and is endlessly supportive of other creators. For a great review that will bring you up to speed on Aedre’s Firefly, check out this page at Webcomic Alliance.

In regards to last week’s post with the death scenes of Mom and Dad Arcady, I know that was a hard scene to read (my wife’s review of the post: “Gruesome”), so we’ll see how it ends up in later drafts. As horrifying as it is, though, I think it informs much of Allin’s behavior in the rest of the story.

Finally, I realized that when I first mentioned Allin’s uncle, way back in Part 12, no one asked or mentioned which side of the family he was on. Now, 6,000 words later, I had to have Banshee explain it. Kind of kludgy and I’ll fix it in a later draft, but for now it stands.

If you enjoyed this post, please click the image below to give The Only City Left a vote on Top Web Fiction. (One vote allowed per week.)

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