Wake of the Bloody Angel by Alex Bledsoe
Wake of the Bloody Angel by Alex Bledsoe (Tor, 2012) is the fourth in the series featuring Eddie Lacrosse. He’s what the author calls a sword jockey, that’s fantasy-speak for a PI. He occupies space above Angelina’s Tavern in Neceda and, for twenty-five gold pieces a day plus expenses, you can hire him to do stuff for you. I need say no more to tell you what the formula is here. This is another of these genre-benders that mashes up hardboiled PI tropes in fantasy world of roughly late-mediaeval or early Renaissance level technology. The theory says this is a Sam Spade/Philip Marlowe figure with a sword and attitude. Sadly, the reality does not live up to the promise. I read the first in the series when it first came out. The Sword-Edged Blonde was his first published novel and it showed all the usual rough edges by not making up its mind what it wanted to be. It’s not a sword and sorcery with a mystery element. Although there are supernatural features like the dwarves and the horse goddess, it’s a very thin veneer. Our hero may be on a horse with a sword, but we’re expected to see through this fiction and accept it as a 1940s style PI novel. Hence the language is more modern and the social institutions are definitely not in period. This incongruity is intended to generate humour but, although the technique was polished. I was left less than impressed.
We now fast forward to this fourth outing and, if the formula was reasonably fresh when Eddie Lacrosse first appeared, it’s grown distinctly tired in the intervening years. This time, the supposed excuse for our hero to go traipsing round the landscape is the need to find out what happened to Angelina’s first and only love. As the name of the book suggests, this man was a notorious pirate: one Black Edward Tew. Twenty years ago, he was reputed to have captured an enormous treasure but then the titular ship was lost at sea with all hands. There’s been no sign of the treasure since which tends to confirm the reality of its loss. Thieves tend to be greedy and rather stupid. Put them next to gold, jewels and other expensive stuff and, ten minutes later. they are down at the nearest brothel spending like money is going out of fashion. So to help Eddie track down the bones of Black Edward, he recruits Jane Argo — a female counterpart who knows the pirate world and is deadly with the sword if called on to fight.
At this point, I release a pent-up deep sigh. This is a book which spends quite a lot of time at sea or on islands, doing piratical things. I’m not against people writing pirate books. I actually read one or two very good efforts fifty and more years ago. But modern authors tend to be reinventing the wheel. Indeed, truth be told, there’s very little to be done to make pirates interesting. Even space pirates capturing and plundering fails to inspire although I do admit to a sneaking admiration for One Piece which does have the right attitude, i.e. it can be magnificently silly. So Wake of the Bloody Angel is formulaic in the somewhat pejorative sense of the word. Our hero and sidekick go off, find out what happened and, in the best traditions of PI novels, report back to the client. Naturally, on the way, they discover their client has been somewhat economical with the truth. Since Angelina has been a major series character, the book is really filling in her back story and it does leave our hero with a slight dilemma of how much to tell her. All I can say is that I read it to the end. I have this misplaced sense of duty that, if an author has invested the time in writing the book, the least I can do is show respect and get to the end. Sadly, it lacks whatever spark was present in the first novel. This is more slick and professionally put together, but it has the feel of going through the motions. What little humour enlivened his first appearance at novel length has evaporated so, unless you are a die-hard fan of this author and his work, I cannot recommend this book.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.