by Josh Lanyon, fantasy (2009)
Blind Eye Books, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-935560-00-5
I have not read anything by Josh Lanyon prior to Strange Fortune, so I do not have any preconceived expectations about it. I know that this author has a big following in the wake of his Adrien English mysteries, but if you ask me anything about that series, I wouldn't know what to tell you because I have not read them. The only thing I know for sure before starting this book is that Strange Fortune is Mr Lanyon's first published speculative fiction story.
Set in a country called Hidush that is very obviously patterned after India during the late 19th to early 20th century with a touch of magic thrown in, we have Valentine Strange, a soldier of fortune who could use a job to overcome the doldrums he has been feeling ever since he left His Majesty's 21st Benhali Lancers. He could use some money to pay off his gaming debts too. Therefore, when a representative from the Holy Orders of Harappu offers him 200,000 rupees to escort Master Aleister Grimshaw to some ruins in the jungles, he's all for it. The mission seems straightforward - go to the ruins of a monastery in the Benhali Mountains with Grimshaw, retrieve the Diadem of the goddess Purya, and enjoy the money. Of course, things are never that simple.
I won't beat around the bush here, I'd just say it straight up: Strange Fortune doesn't work for me. There is nothing wrong with the story, except that it's a little too slowly paced for my liking. But my problem here lies in the way the author chooses to develop his story. There are way too many things that are kept hidden from me, the reader, from the beginning. Both Grimshaw and Strange are keeping things from each other, and they also keep their secrets from me. I only learn of these things when the author chooses to reveal them in the story, which can happen abruptly in the middle of a scene. As a result, I am made to feel as if I'm a detective in a cozy mystery, stumbling around blindly while trying to figure out these characters instead of sitting back and enjoying the story. The author's method of deliberate withholding of information from the reader may - should - work well in a story built around suspense or mystery, but in a slow-paced story such as this one, the method only serves to distract me constantly from the story.
And while this is not an issue for me, I should point out as a PSA that the romantic elements in this story are not particularly strong. Yes, the two men will snog and all, but the author doesn't focus on their feelings for each other as much as you would find in a typical romance story.
On the bright side, Strange Fortune suggests to me that I can very well get to enjoy the author's prose in perhaps a different genre. There is a subtle, dry, and even sardonic sense of humor in his writing that I can definitely get used to. It's just unfortunate that in the case of Strange Fortune, the technique used by Mr Lanyon to unfold the story is one that I just cannot get into. Maybe next time.
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