01/03/2005. Contributed by Tom Lloyd-Williams
pub: Gollancz. 559 page enlarged paperback. Price: £10.99 (UK). ISBN: 0-575-07451-5.
Set a year after the events of 'The Eyes Of God', 'The Devil's Armour' sees
the Diamond Queen, Jazana Carr, moving to conquer Norvor and turn her eye towards
Liiria. Two former inhabitants of Liiria, Lukien and Baron Glass, are meanwhile
on the other side of the desert hiding from their pasts in the mountain fortress
of Grimhold. Populated by a motley collection of invalids led by the elfin Minikin,
Grimhold has its own problems however. Its reputation as a place of healing
and magic has lured thousands across the desert in search of cures, only to
get there and discover that there isn't enough magic to go around. Their mere
presence is enough to stir up trouble though. A local warlord sees this as an
opportunity to advance his own position and attacks.
Meanwhile, Jazana's desire for revenge on her former lover, Baron Glass, doesn't allow her to even hesitate as her conquest continues. The threat to his homeland prompts Baron Glass to steal the armour inhabited by a manipulative spirit and ride in Liiria's defence, uncaring of the horror he is loosing upon the world. Lukien, as the unkillable defender of Grimhold, pursues and they both are drawn into the coming battle.
As a novel, 'The Devil's Armour' takes a while to get rolling. The armour in question, for instance, isn't stolen until past halfway. While the plot certainly isn't lacking, Marco's priority is the characters and their personal problems and agendas. The intricate details of the world they're living in take a back seat and by consequence, it lacks a certain colour. The prose makes little impact and I didn't find myself living and breathing each alien scene - one of the biggest reasons I read fantasy in the first place.
It's true that the characters themselves are very carefully developed, but so much so that at times they appear to be slaves to their own back-stories. Free will plays less of a part in their actions than their defined roles, something that frustrated me as a reader when I saw it coming.
Overall, the book underwhelmed me. There was nothing clearly bad about it - the worst issues being the sparse prose and occasionally stilted dialogue - but at the same time it didn't engage me. I read it happily enough and it didn't irritate or bore. Given my tendency to throw around books that do irritate me ('Angels And Demons' being a notable example of defenestration due to terrible writing), I certainly don't want to class this with those.
However, I just couldn't bring myself to really care by the end and the impression the book left was all too transient. I suspect my lasting memory will be of laughing at the way the novel set up the plot of book three, which doesn't really do the rest of the book justice but is true none the less. While I'm sure that fans of John Marco will lap this latest work up, it simply didn't do enough in any department to move me.
The next author to buy on my list remains China Mieville and in comparison, my memory of 'The Devil's Armour' is fading fast.
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