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By Col Buchanan. An aged assassin takes on an apprentice – and his toughest job yet

Author: Col Buchanan
Publisher: Tor • 387 pages • £17.99
ISBN: 978-0-230-74481-3 • OUT NOW!

Maps: sometimes it’d be best if they just let us imagine them. Many fantasy maps are geographically unbelievable horrors, poorly adapted from our own world, that undermine the carefully produced word-portrait the author strives for. Farlander suffers from this.

Further to this point: language. Middle-earth grew from Tolkien’s linguistic play, lending it a solidity few others have managed. Farlander co-opts real names and history from all over the place. Rule Five of the Turkey City Lexicon (“Call a rabbit a smeerp”) is also widely flouted – Pica birds (magpies), Zels (zebra-horses), Chee (tea) and so on. Worse, it’s done with no consistency.

All this is likely to rile the finickity fan. Which is a shame, because Col Buchanan’s debut novel is gripping. Protagonist Ash is the best of a group of ninja-like assassins. To those who can afford their services, they offer vendetta as an insurance against murder. Ash is dying, so reluctantly agrees to take an apprentice. This sounds like a
clichéd “potboy to hero” tale, but Buchanan takes a braver road with all the clichés he employs, delightfully undermining expectation. As the story progresses, you realise his world is not so poorly thought-out after all. There are some well-integrated early industrial flourishes, and the baddies, the Cult of Mann, are a workable synthesis of the Thuggees and Aleister Crowley-esque “Do What Thou Wilt” hedonism.

It’s a four-star story with five-star characters, set in a three-star world. The result is like a slightly less accomplished Joe Abercrombie, but more real for its dourness. If Buchanan’s handling of detail grows to match his ability with character, he’s going to be really good. Guy Haley

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