I’ve been saying for a while now that some of the best and most exciting fantasy isn’t coming from the Northern Hemisphere. Some of the freshest stories I’ve read over the last few years have come from Australia and New Zealand.
Case in point, The Last Quarrel. I’d like to thank MIchelle Cameron of Momentum Books for providing me with a review copy. I’d also like to apologize for letting it slip through the cracks and not getting to it sooner. (Although it’s been one of those semesters. I finished the book nearly two weeks ago, and this is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and write the review.)
The Last Quarrel has been published in serial format. The combined edition will be available on the 23rd. I’ve pre-ordered it. Yes, I liked it that much. I said it’s been almost two weeks since I finished it, yet the scenes and characters from The Last Quarrel have stuck in my mind. I often don’t remember much about what I read three days ago, so this one had some things that really stood out.
The central viewpoint character is a man named Fallon. He’s essentially the sheriff in a small out-of-the-way fishing village on the coast. All his life he’s wanted to be a hero. He turned the opportunity down because his family was more important. He and his wife wanted children for years, only to be disappointed time after time. Finally, they had a son, Kerrin.
Kerrin has respiratory problems, and so Fallon turned down an officer’s commission with the Duke. The air in the city would be bad for Kerrin, and his wife Bridgit forbade the move.
Now middle age is creeping in. Fallon has the authority to form a militia, and he does, forcing the men to undergo training. Most don’t take it seriously, but it might be their only hope.
A derelict ship runs aground on the beach, a ship that was supposed to be carrying the Duke for a formal visit to the village. Only there’s not a living soul on it. Rumors abound of selkies destroying isolated fishing boats. They get the blame for this as well. And it falls to Fallon to take news to the Duchess that she is probably a widow.
Meanwhile, Prince Cavan makes appearances in the name of his father, the King. Cavan is much more popular and diplomatic. Only one morning he discovers that the first speech he is to make is at the burning of a widow for practicing witchcraft. Cavan is convinced she’s innocent. But the crowd, panicked by series of children who’ve gone missing, insist on her death. Cavan regretfully sees that the execution is carried out, but only to prevent the crowd from rioting and his father from executing the guards ordered to burn her.
Now Cavan vows to find the parties responsible for the kidnappings, even if the trail leads back into the palace. Which it very well may. He doesn’t realize what he’s up against.
The world here has a very Irish feel to it. Many of the names and terms are Irish, and the name of the kingdom is Gaelland. I rather liked this aspect of the book. The selkies aren’t some romantic race ready for interspecies sex. While there is some discussion amongst the characters as to whether they actually exist, something is raiding the coast. There are some short chapters in which the characters in those chapters are never seen again. I found those parts of the story good and creepy.
Lay handles the character relationships with ease. Fallon’s troubled relationship with Bridgit is complex. Lay manages to present her as both a fearful and domineering woman as well as a loving and attractive one. Cavan’s interactions with his steward and his bodyguard also feel natural. Each man comes across as an individual.
The scene in which Prince Cavan tries to protect the widow from being burned as a witch is intense. Lay manages to inject some much needed comic relief, and he does it in such a way that it fits into the flow of the scene naturally and doesn’t come across as hokey. I almost laughed out loud, something I don’t often do, but the tension was such that I had to in order to relax.
I’m looking forward to reading the whole thing. The Last Quarrel has been released in five episodes two weeks apart. As I said earlier, the combined edition hits virtual shelves late next week. If you like action oriented fantasy that’s well written and has engaging characters with depth, then you’ll want to pick this one up.