The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark

Anna read at BristolCon Fringe last year.  This is not the sort of fantasy book I would usually be particularly interested in – I have a limited tolerance for grimdark (I know, take away my goth card).  But she is an expert in medieval poetry and it was obvious from her short reading that she knows all about alliteration and repetition and all the other stuff that makes literature for a semi-literate society (ie most people will have it read aloud to them) work.  So I bought the book, in hardcover.

It’s (I guess) typical grimdark fantasy stuff – a company of mercenaries is brought to the city to overthrow the king and everything goes predictably wrong.  But the aftermath is not at all what I was expecting, involving the adventures of an escaped priestess and an exiled, drug addicted, berserker prince-turned-mercenary.

Everything about the world in which they live is repellent – the “civilised” society is nothing but a theatre of cruelty.  (Well, it’s superficially gorgeous and sumptuous).

At one level, all of the characters are horrible people.  But look a little closer and most of them have endearing, human features and motivations and some of their failings can be explained by the brutal society in which they live.  (Some.)

The prose is beautiful.  While Smith Spark obviously appreciates medieval poetry, the use of its elements is not overwhelming.  (I Get It because I’ve read a fair amount of medieval poetry myself; I don’t think that the language would confuse anyone who hasn’t).  I particularly loved the use of interior monologue following what is said out loud.  It caused me to laugh out loud more than once.  The novel overall was a lot easier to read than the part that she read to us had indicated.

Between the language and the really cool plotting, I found myself really enjoying this book and I will be picking up her new book at some point.

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