I’ve described myself as a “Dave Duncan fanboy” at least twice on this booklog, and only re-reading some old entries kept me from doing so a third time just now. One of the things I love so much about his work is that he doesn’t repeat himself. While his last series, for instance, was an epic fantasy set on a dodecahedronal world, his latest series — comprising Dave Duncan’s The Alchemist’s Apprentice, The Alchemist’s Code, and The Alchemist’s Pursuit — is a series of mysteries set in a Renaissance Venice with about the amount of magic that Renaissance Venetians would have expected.

The protagonist is the youthful assistant to an aged seer named Nostradamus, who is occasionally called upon by the doge to investigate matters in an unofficial capacity. The resulting stories are some combination of light adventure, fantasy of manners, mystery, and straight historical fiction. It’s an airy and charming combination, and Duncan’s writing is, as ever, propulsive and appealing.

There aren’t a lot of epic fantasists who could so convincingly switch registers to write this sort of thing; it’s a testament to Duncan’s range that you could believe he’d written nothing else, and that he was an Ellis Peters-style writer of period mysteries. And while I’ve always loved, and continue to love, Duncan’s fantasy series, these were delicious enough that I almost wish he was a full-time mystery writer, and that there were a good dozen or so of these. Recommended.


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