Author – Richard Ford
Publisher – Headline
I suppose there comes a time if you review books – and find yourself on a publisher’s mailing list – when you will get sent a book that is either part of a series, or the middle book of a trilogy. The Shattered Crown is such a book. It is the second in the Steelhaven trilogy, and being the second book must act as the bridge between what went before and what comes next. It could be seen as a hindrance to have not read the first book, to find yourself thrust into a story already a third done with characters established and the plot well underway. But it is the sign of a good author if he or she can write a book so that someone in my position can read it and not be totally lost. Richard Ford is such an author.
Steelhaven is the primary city and administrative centre in the Free States – kind of like Brussels – and so a jewel that must be taken if anyone is looking to take those states for their own. The Elharim warlord Amon Tugha has united the fractured Khurta tribes into a formidable army and is crushing all before them en-route to Steelhaven. But the city has other problems apart from the approaching army, the king is dead and his young daughter Queen Janessa wears the steel crown. Also the city if rife with plots, the Father of Killers assassin is at large and the Guild seems to be operating to the benefit of the approaching army. Janessa is surrounded by advisors of dubious character who seem to have ideas of their own as to how the defence of the city should be organised.
There must be about a dozen sub plots crammed into this book, all of them rattle along at a great pace. The host of characters rivals a book with the initials GRRM attached to it, but they are not there to make up numbers. Merrick Ryder & Kaira struggle to acclimatise to their new roles and responsibilities, Waylain wonders what other ills will befall him on his path to knowledge, the killers Forest and River, the Ying and Yang in the Father of Killer arsenal, the Zatani troop led by Regulus hoping to find redemption glory and honour on the battlefields of the north and finally the brilliantly named Nobul Jacks who’s dark past threatens to consume him and that he finds he has to embrace to survive. All of them have a story to tell, a small part of the same story of a city preparing for war, but together those stories come together and merge until all the characters are in place ready to face the coming storm.
The book is mainly set within the walls of Steelhaven but through the various characters POV you get glimpses of the greater world beyond, the battles that the defending armies face, and the darker deeds that are done to aid the Khurta horde. You don’t actually get to see any of this external action, most of this book is set up with Ford moving his pieces in preparation for the third book – making this book a ship-in-a-bottle instalment – but that doesn’t mean this book doesn’t have any action. The city is not a safe place and factions vie for supremacy seeing an opportunity and thinking the Queen is soft and an easy target. But unlikely heroes come to the fore and blood is spilt – in inventive ways as well.
I have known of Richard Ford for some years, we both frequent the same forums and follow eachother of Twitter. But this is the first of his books I’ve ever read and boy have I been missing out. The plot is packed but not convoluted, the characters colourful and at times brutal, and the prose flows so fast you find hours slipping away as you immerse yourself in the tide. If you like your fantasy full of guts and glory and with a clever plot then this is for you.