Inspired by its inclusion on Kate Nepveu's "Fantasy of Manners" list, I decided to give Lynn Flewelling's Luck in the Shadows a whirl.

This is one of those books that I've owned for years and years, on the basis of positive reviews and general good comments; but never got around to reading, on the basis of not-wildly-positive reviews and not insanely good comments. When there's a bunch of allegedly-excellent fiction that I still haven't read, it's hard to get too excited about stuff that's merely allegedly good. But hey, if it's in one of my favorite subgenres, mere goodness is enough to push it further up on my reading list. And besides, I keep seeing new paperbacks from Flewelling, and I'd like to know whether I should buy them.

After reading Luck in the Shadows, I've concluded that a) I should buy her new books, as she's a skilled storyteller writing some enjoyable stuff, but b) Kate should take her off the "Fantasy of Manners" list, because she doesn't quite belong. Sure, most of the action of this novel (which is the first of a trilogy, but stands alone moderately well) takes place in a cosmopolitan city among smooth-tongued, intriguing nobles -- but that's just scenery. The fundamental issues of the story aren't with the noble intrigues, but with more familiar Dark Gods and Ancient Prophecies. This is epic fantasy in civilized fantasy clothing.

Viewed as an epic fantasy, Flewelling's novel is quite good. It's peopled with interesting characters, including one of those smooth-tongued, hyper-competent rogues that are so fun to read about; it's got a pleasantly distinctive setting; and the plot moves along with the requisite paciness. Still and all, I'm not going to praise it too wildly: While the first-novelness is mostly invisible, there are a few patches where the plot's forced along a bit obviously; more importantly, there's very little here that feels truly new. This is a competent addition to the epic fantasy corpus, but it ultimately reads as little more than Eddings done properly. It's fun, not too painfully derivative, but doesn't add much to the genre. There's none of Duncan's wild inventiveness, of Kay's masterly stylings, of Martin's realism.

But those are high standards to live up to, and I don't want to sound as though I'm more negative about this book than I am. Compared to the other generic fantasy I've reviewed on this booklog, Luck in the Shadows gets high marks. It's far less derivative than Moon's Paksenarrion trilogy, much more solidly written than Wrede's Lyra books, and a lot less lazy than the Eddings' The Redemption of Althalus. If you like epic fantasy, Luck in the Shadows is worth reading.


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