The Guns of Ivrea by Clifford Beal
|Book Name:||The Guns of Ivrea|
|Genre(s):||Epic Fantasy (with Pirates!)|
|Release Date:||February 9th 2016|
A few years ago I read and enjoyed Gideon’s Angel by Clifford Beal. It was a novel set in 17th Century England and was enhanced with light fantasy elements, most prominently magical artefacts and religious beings. It was a very clever novel, well-paced, full of masterful descriptions of the times and had some great characters too. That said, it never quite picked up the following it deserved; people tend to be a little wary around fantasy novels using a historical setting, they’re not quite Alternate History, Epic Fantasy or Steampunk – they’re somewhere in the middle and the masses tend to make a grab for the titles sitting more comfortably on one of the labelled shelves.
The Guns of Ivrea, is Clifford’s first secondary world Fantasy novel and having read it within just a few days, I can tell you that the author’s historical knowledge and descriptive skills, from years of journalism, complement his fictitious world perfectly. This is a book that despite featuring magical sisters who experience visions, merfolk who live below the seas, magical amulets and brutal pirates never loses its feeling of authenticity. But, I’m getting ahead of myself, lets rewind a little….
The Guns of Ivrea kicks off with the accidental opening of the Great Temple at Livorna. Following an Earthquake, there is now a clear route into the tomb of Saint Elded, the Lawgiver and prophet of the Lord. Uncertain whether the tomb or its contents were damaged during the shudders, two blackrobes and four greyrobes from the One Faith are sent to investigate. Our focus is on Acquel, one of these greyrobes. Acquel isn’t your stereotypical Monk, proven when he steals an amulet from the Lawgiver’s tomb. The ramifications of what he sees whilst stealing this amulet, however, are far more dangerous than any possible punishment the order could deal him for its theft. What he cannot un-see quickly results in the death of the monks that accompanied him into the tomb and leaves Acquel running for his life with a secret that could topple the country’s foremost religious system.
Our second protagonist is a man at the top of his game, Captain Nicolo Danamis. He’s a pirate whose huge fleet and close connections to the King mean that he is ranked almost as highly as a Prince. With little mercenary work, and pirating small ships not paying the kind of money someone of such status needs to live, Danamis has got creative and made a deal with the strange and dangerous Merfolk. He will provide them with a special kind of leave from a faraway land and they will provide him with caskets full of gold. The problem for Danamis is that being associated with Merfolk goes against the moral code of even the scallywag Pirates that serve him. Quickly, Danamis finds himself in a position where he too is removed from his position of unquestioned power and must undergo a dangerous journey if he is to regain it
A third character driving the action is Citala. I will be careful revealing too much about Citala to you, because her storyline picks up much later in the book and to know too much of her motives would spoil a lot of the early uncertainty her absence creates. However, I think I am safe in telling you that in the opening few chapters, Citala is revealed as the one responsible for putting aside the Merfolk’s open and expected hostility towards humans by setting up the trade of gold for the precious leaves. Her actions and how she reacts to the human betrayal that almost saw deaths among her people will decide the foreseeable future for both Merfolk and humans.
The remainder of the characters tend to react to events rather than drive them forwards. That doesn’t make their involvement in the story any less enjoyable though. In fact, my favourite characters were probably the ever-concerened- about-his-wallet Captain Julianus Strykar and the beautiful, strange and terrifying Lady Lucinda della Rovera. Strykar’s role in the novel is to get Danamis back into a comfortable seat of power, because he’s the guy who has been paying him a fortune to retrieve the Merfolk’s leaves. Lucinda is a kind of seer, she is able to access a kind of sight that allows her to see long distances (the reason she is hired by another secondary character, Magister Lucius Kodoris, to track Acquel). There are hints that her powers extend beyond being able to ‘see’ across time and space, but you will need to read through Guns to see whether these are accurate or exaggerated. Regardless, other than the Merfolk and an un-stealable amulet, Lucinda is one of the most Fantastical aspects of Clifford’s work, which is otherwise magic light. Another character worth mentioning is Timandra Pandarus. She serves as Acquel’s confidant and the relationship between the two is really quite interesting. It doesn’t follow the path of the stereotypical romance you may expect and it’s quite joyous to experience.
The way the story is told is fitting. Just like George R.R. Martin’s work, we get multiple POVs, but it’s the way they are used that really quickens the pace. We see our heroes make one move and are then allowed a view of our antagonists making another that sets them on a collision course. The antagonists always feel dangerous and our heroes always feel vulnerable and this ability to make characters seem vulnerable without being useless seems key to Clifford Beal’s ability ensure the book thrives with a constant tension.
Clifford Beal’s novel will suit those who want something somewhere in the middle of Scott Lynch’s Red Seas Under Red Skies and George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. The storyline is pretty straight-forward, but there’s enough politics and world building that you can really take your time building up an understanding of Clifford’s world should you wish. The characters on the side of ‘good’ are, as is on trend, all broken and unfit for the roles they currently hold (Monk, Captain, etc). The plot-threads with the constant twists and turns make for great reading that will keep you guessing until the very end; I also appreciate how each fork in the road tests the cast, requiring them to choose whether they move back towards or further from the roles they’ve previously enjoyed serving in comfort.
Overall it’s a highly readable, fast-paced, fun adventure novel that somehow manages to be all of that without ever sacrificing on character development, authentic descriptions, and vivid worldbuilding.