Gollancz, p/b £12.99
Reviewed by R A Bardy (@mangozoid)
Stephen Deas’ The Black Mausoleum is apparently the fourth book in the Memory of Flames series, but since this one starts with the world now under the fiery domination of dragons, I’m guessing all the books that came before have merely led up to this cataclysmic state of affairs anyway.
Not being familiar with the earlier stories didn’t seem to be a problem, so this would seem a decent point at which to jump into Deas’ dark and grim but nonetheless heroic fantasy world. The Dragon Realms is a place where dragons are scaly, scary, and breathe serious fire; alchemists are blood-mages, failed dragon keepers, but still powerful enough to bind others to their will; and Adamantine Men (aka Embers) are born and bred to be dragon slayers, saturated with enough poison to fell even the biggest of fire-breathing beastie. Everyone else is pretty much an Outsider of some description, or a classic Star Trek redcoat…
And this, my friends, is where the story begins… An alchemist, an Ember bent to her will, and a crazed madman who knows a lot more than he’s letting on. Between them, they begin a quest to find the Black Mausoleum, fabled resting place of the Silver King, a half-god with the power to tame the world, etc. The fact that the crazed madman spends almost the entire story being carried around like a sack of spuds by Skorl (the Ember), and is incapable of doing anything for himself throughout most of the story is probably a great testament to the author’s skilful handling of the matter, although I personally found it annoying after the first couple of hundred pages.
Of course, fighting your way through a world dominated by dragons is never going to be easy, and the temptation to dismiss this as just another mighty quest through a host of random encounters is ever present, but I still loved it. There’s a cracking pace throughout, and all the characters have hidden, darker depths – I think I disliked all of them, actually – with perhaps only Skorl being the one who seems to stay true to his Adamantine convictions.
A very good yarn, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it as a pleasant time-waster. Well told, nippy, and chock full of twists and turns. Not quite a thumper, but very entertaining.