A fantasy set in an alternate castlepunk medieval Italy, Aidan Harte’s Irenicon has a killer change point. Thirteen hundred years before the novel opens, King Herod the Baby Killer sent out his troops to slaughter the first-born sons and Jesus, son of Mary, was one of those victims. There are virgins in niches on every street corner, but they show Mary holding her dead baby. Christianity has no Christ, just the very sad mother of a slaughtered god. If there were stars for world building Irenicon would be five plus, no question. And Harte brings a level of intelligence to the book that’s impressive.
In Rasenna, where the river runs up hill and divides the restless city into northsiders and southsiders, and warring factions live in stone towers guarded by banner-wielding martial artists, sixteen-year-old Sofia Scaglieri - the city’s future countess, should she survive that long – lives with the Doc, who treats his ward as something between an adopted daughter and a hostage. But Sofia is about to inherit and then… Well, you know what then. Everything will change. Political alliances will smash and empires go to war.
There are flaws. The intricate first half contrasts with the second (basically, Sofia running around with weapons). The dialogue is modern set in medieval, which is becoming close to cliché these days, and then there are endnotes, lots of endnotes. But the parts hold.
Jon Courtenay Grimwood
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