“Waylaid in the wilds, they left him for dead…
Sir Luther Slythe Krait is a bad man. He tried outrunning his past, but vengeance is swift and tireless and rides on unceasing wings.
Lord Pyotr Raachwald’s heir was murdered in a ritual rife with black witchcraft. His legacy is shattered. His purpose ruined. And with the killer at large, all he has left, revenge, lies too out of his reach.
Plunged into the civil war consuming Asylum City, Sir Luther is compelled into the service of his arch-nemesis, Lord Raachwald. Can Sir Luther play Lord Raachwald off against another power-mad lord long enough to unmask the truth behind the heir’s murder? Hunt down the killer? Bring him to justice? Or will he just die trying?
Waylaid in the wilds, they left him for dead, just not dead enough…”
Lords of Asylum is a clever blend of political intrigue, murder mystery and noir thriller. Europe is in the grip of the Black Death, civil war is raging and the city of Asylum stands on the brink of utter chaos. The heir of the power hungry Lord Raachwald has been murdered under suspicious circumstances, and he is determined to find those responsible to enact his revenge. For this he enlists the services of Sir Luther Krait, a man he despises, but who has the necessary skills to get the job done. He also has the ultimate bargaining chip – Luther’s brother, Stephan. If Luther wants to save his brother from the axe, he must race against time to discover the killer and deliver them to Lord Raachwald.
One of the first impressions I have of Lords of Asylum is that it really punches you in the face with its noirish atmosphere – though it’s a tale of knights and lords set in Europe in the 14th Century, it largely uses modern dialogue with an American feel, which takes a little getting used to. However, it’s clearly a stylistic choice and for the most part I found that it worked. Here we have tough talking henchmen, lords who behave like mob bosses, and femme fatales galore. It’s a gritty and violent world given occasional levity through some amusing dialogue – Luther and Karl in particular have an excellent rapport. Luther himself is a sort of Sam Spade meets The Bloody Nine – part detective, part morally ambiguous knight… all cynic. His slow uncovering of the mystery is well plotted and thought out, and there are plenty of clues dropped along the way as to what’s going on. There are many colorful characters who would benefit directly from the murder and Wright did a good job at keeping me guessing throughout.
The worldbuilding is strong – beyond the immediate violence of the setting, the ever present threat of the plague lurks in the background, and the corpse fires around the city serve as grim mood lighting to a dark and brooding plot. The city and its characters are intensely hostile to Luther and so there’s a real sense of his struggle and desperation knowing that his brother’s life is on the line. The heavily stylized and evocative prose is reminiscent of both noir writers like James Ellroy and Raymond Chandler, and more recently in the fantasy genre, Anna Smith Spark. This was a big check in the plus section for me, as these are all writers whose work I enjoy a great deal. This might also be a sticking point for some readers, however, as this style doesn’t work for everyone – I’d recommend checking out the sample before purchasing to see if it’s for you.
There are also some elements that might make for uncomfortable reading for some, due to the novel’s grounding in the real history of Europe. The persecution of the Jewish people during the height of the plague is a major element of the novel, and there are some anti-semitic remarks from several of the non-Jewish characters, as well as use of the slur “dago” to refer to the Spanish. There are also some anachronisms, indeed, “dago” is one of them (not in use until the 1800s) – idioms are used that won’t be coined for centuries, in particular “pound of flesh” jumped out at me, being a well known Shakespearean phrase (late 16th C.). However, since Wright has clearly studied writing extensively (displaying knowledge of 14thC. Italian poets, amongst other things) and there are some clear parallels to The Merchant of Venice later in the plot, I have to assume that most of these, too, are deliberate choices. I’m just not sure how successful those choices are, since they disrupted my immersion in the story.
Overall I’d say that Lords of Asylum is a bit of a dark horse – I went in unsure of what to expect, and found myself engrossed in an unusual tale that blended elements of some of my favorite genres and was, for the most part, very successful. The snappy dialogue and morally grey protagonist were a delight to read, and the dark and oppressive backdrop was dripping with atmosphere. While it had a couple of problems, I’ll be interested to read more by this author. I think he’s one to watch.
Score: 8.2/10 (5 Stars)
Bingo Squares 2018
- Reviewed on r/Fantasy
- Historical/Alternate History
- Fewer than 2500 GR Ratings