It’s no secret that I’m something of a Dave Duncan fanboy. He’s always managed to deliver the hit that I get out of fantasy without all the embarrassing derivative sameness. Recently, I’ve been going through and reading some of his earlier stuff that I’d missed the first time, and which is now back in print from POD presses — Shadow and West of January — and here I am at his first published novel: Dave Duncan’s A Rose-Red City .
As first novels go, it’s far more polished than it has any right to be. There are no weird tics, no incredibly awkward bits, and only a few infelicities of pacing or characterization. And the setup of the plot is right in line with Duncan’s reputation for originality: An ancient Greek and a semi-modern Englishman sally forth from a timeless magical city go to (more or less) our world to rescue someone and bring them back to that perfect city. Very little in the book happens as you’d expect it to happen, and it’s generally a quality read.
That said, whatever it is that I look for in fantasy wasn’t here in this, and while there was nothing particularly wrong with the book, it didn’t grab me. But then, I’m not really the audience for wish-fulfillment rescue to a happy place fiction. I didn’t care for Zenna Henderson’s People stories (which consist of this basic plot over and over) or Rowling’s first Harry Potter book, which cover much the same ground. People who did like those will probably like this considerably more than I.