Fantasy Lost in the Shuffle: Lane Robins' Excellent Kings and Assassins
Back in 2007, I reviewed Lane Robins' Maledicte for Sci Fi Weekly. I thought it was a strong novel from a great new talent, and my review read in part: "Maledicte is a spirited, complex melodrama. At heart, Lane Robins has created an old-fashioned tale of revenge in a fantasy setting where guards carry muskets and hedonistic aristocrats like the withered Vornatti (reminiscent of a much less dangerous and corpulent Baron Harkonnen) get injections of a something suspiciously like a combination of absinthe and morphine. The focus is very much on the action and the characters, with less attention paid to describing the world, which may leave some readers wishing they had a few more details. However, the approach generally works, because it allows the court intrigues at the heart of the novel to breathe, unencumbered by too much baggage. The conversations and the back-and-forth between the bored-cruel aristocrats of the Antyraan court often have a lively and lived-in feel. Maledicte's transformation from someone rough-hewn to a court-worthy figure also provides much pleasure."
This April, Lane Robins published Kings and Assassins, a stand-alone sequel also from Del Rey. In the novel, Robins makes the gutsy decision to make Janus, one of the ostensible villains of Maledicte, the viewpoint character. The result? Often brutal political drama in a fantasy setting. Robins clearly doesn't believe in escapism, and the novel is better for it. Readers who initially may bridle at the choice of Janus to follow will quickly be won over.
Unfortunately, the novel doesn't appear to be getting much play in fantasy circles--it doesn't fit in with the current "supernatural thriller" fantasy that's dominating bestseller lists. It also doesn't fit in with the avant garde and "literary" fantasy that often dominates critical discussion. Kings and Assassins deserves your attention, though--it's not cookie cutter fiction. As you consider your summer reading options, take a strong look at Maledicte and Kings and Assassins. You might just find yourself hooked.