01/03/2003. Contributed by Katie McGivern
pub: Gollancz. 409 page enlarged paperback. Price: £10.99 (UK). ISBN: 0-575-07247-4.
check out website: www.orionbooks.co.uk
It is a Golden Age for humanity - there has been peace for one hundred years and both king and parliament work together to ensure that democracy and order is maintained.
However, a change is coming with the coronation of Douglas Campbell as the new king. His father has trained him to be a new kind of king - he has been a Paragon (a kind of state vigilante), expected to rule fairly but firmly.
Like every good human culture, there are myths and legends and they concern Owen Deathstalker, a man who died to save the empire and humanity.
Lewis Deathstalker is his descendant and the new champion of the empire. He is tough and cruel but believes in justice and humanity.
Unfortunately, Finn Durandal the most celebrated Paragon of all wanted to be champion and therefore plots to overthrown the golden age.
Because as Simon R Green says, 'Even standing in the brightest sun, some parts of humanity see only the dark shadow they cast.'
This book mixes Science Fiction and fantasy. It is an almost magical time - the populace being ruled by a king and the legend of the Deathstalker to comfort those that need it. Yet it is high-tech with AIs and clones having a voice in parliament and many weapons and disguises are available to those who need them.
There are many protest groups and disparate voices in Lorges, the home planet of the empire, and it takes a skilful politician to manoeuvre through the various debates. It deals with big issues and also the deeply personal.
For all the fantastical and Science Fiction elements in this book, it is a human story. The empire is not destroyed through religion or politics but because two people are hurt by something that was done to them.
I enjoyed reading this book in the same way that I like eating ice cream or watching a chick flick - to escape for a while. The characters are larger than life and almost fit a characters by numbers outline.
The woman who is a deadly killer, the king who has to choose duty over his life, the conman with the heart of gold and the modest man called to save the world. Some phrases pop up repeatedly and sometimes it feels like it has all been written before.
But it is a good book. There is humour, particularly the love (?) interest between the rogue Brett Random and the cold-blooded killer Rose Constantine.
It is well plotted, the twist at the end is suitably gasp-inducing and the characters, including the minor characters, are well written and you do care what happens to them.
I would recommend this book if you like your plots sweeping, your characters big and your stories bold.
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