The Boy Who Wept Blood by Den Patrick
Gollancz, 403pp large format paperback
£14.99 cover price, £5.99 on Kindle (Feb 2016)
Reviewed by Alex Bardy (Twitter: @mangozoid)
As sequels go, I wasn’t too sure what to expect from this, and given it’s set a decade after the first book, The Boy With The Porcelain Blade (review here), it was interesting to return to the world of Landfall and see how things have moved on.
And moved on they have, Lucien has long since departed castle Demesne, his sister Anea is now ruling the kingdom with a softer heart and a vision akin to democratic reform which is understandably not popular with the traditional Houses who have enjoyed considerable privilege under the old system. Thankfully, the setting remains strong, a quasi-Renaissance Italy with an undercurrent of Gormenghast-like tradition. Oh, and there are rooftop-sorties, a great many of them…
On the flip side of the coin, the last book was set mainly in Demesne, but this time around we have the small town of Santa Maria as an alternate main setting; awash with areas of abject poverty, it’s a place apparently destined to benefit from Anea’s political reforms, but it’s also seeing the revival of an ancient religion in the form of The Cult of Santa Maria: a movement becomingly increasingly popular among the township (and consequently extremely dangerous for Anea). And thus we have the core conflicts and political wrangles around which the rest of the action takes place, with our main protagonist this time being Lucien’s former protégé, Dino Erudito and his loyal friend, Massimo Esposito, both of whom see plenty of action here…
There is a lot going on in this, but basically Dino becomes the bodyguard to his half-sister Anea, the so-called Silent Queen, and all too soon is pushed into several other roles which frankly don’t sit so well with him, mainly involving assassination, treachery, and spycraft – all of which he happens to be rather good at. Together with the conflicts already mentioned and the associated political machinations and court intrigue that accompany it, this is quite an involved tale with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing throughout.
Much as I enjoyed the first book, I did have an issue with the old and new timelines running concurrently, so was relieved to see this one had a much more linear structure, with just an occasional dabble into the past. It’s all the better for it too, as we can really get into the character of Dino and those he seeks to protect, although I did feel that coming to grips with his sexuality was maybe an internal conflict too far, but that’s by the by… the rest of the story ticks along very nicely.
It’s probably to the author’s credit that he can bring so much complexity to the character(s) and plot, yet still leave you on the back foot when it comes to anticipating what will happen next, although I really did find the ending of this unsatisfactory. Nonetheless it’s still an entertaining read, and fingers crossed the next one, The Girl on the Liar’s Throne will see things pan out for the better.