When it first came out, Dave Duncan's Blades series was supposed to be a series of stand-alone books, each telling a separate story. That premise lasted right up until the end of the second one, where a twist in the storyline meant that the third book had to tie the first two together into a trilogy with many interconnected elements.

But now, in Dave Duncan's Paragon Lost , there really is a completely stand-alone Blades book -- at least plot-wise; the book assumes that the reader is already familiar with the world in which it's set, so those who haven't read the first three Blades books would likely be lost starting with this one.

Paragon Lost takes place after all the events of the first three books, and focuses on a new character, a Blade named Beaumont. Like all the Blades books, this one isn't told in straight chronological order; it starts out in the middle, spends two thirds of the book getting back to that point, and then spends the last third advancing the book forward.

It's something of an unusual structure, actually -- too much of the book takes place in the past for it to be a flashback, but too much takes place in the present for it to be a framing story. It works well enough, but caused a problem for me. When I'm reading a series with gaps between books, I tend to forget almost everything and need to be reminded what was going on. So when a book starts out -- like this one did -- referring to all sorts of events in the past that are unfamiliar to me, I'm never certain if they happened in a previous book (and I should remember them to understand what's going on) or if they're new references and we'll be told everything we need to know.

Other than that confusion (which won't happen for people with better memories than mine), though, the book was quite smooth. The plot wasn't overly complex, but it was complex enough to be interesting; the characters were all well-done, and if Beaumont was perhaps a bit more superhumanly competent than might be realistic, well, he's fun.

My only complaint with the book is that it didn't feel as original as most of Duncan's other novels. Partly this is because it's the fourth book of a series, so there are no world-building surprises; and partly it's because this series is one of Duncan's most conventional, anyway, and the characters are tramping across what's really just a thinly-renamed Europe. If you've read the other Blades books, there are no surprises here.

I enjoyed the book a lot (and stayed up late reading it two nights in a row), but I hope that Duncan's going to do something else next.


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