Monday, September 28, 2015

Not Quite Scaramouche - Joel Rosenberg

   2001; 301 pages.  Book #9 (out of 10) in the Guardians of the Flame series.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Fantasy.  Overall Rating : 5*/10.

    It is a busy time for the warrior-bodyguards Kethol, Pirojil, and Erenor.  Walter Slovotsky has charged them with keeping the young Baron Jason Cullinane alive; which is no mean task, given the lad’s propensity for putting himself in noble but life-threatening situations.

    Now the emperor has called Parliament into session, and that requires all Barons to travel to the capital city of Biemestren.  The route from the Cullinane Barony to Biemestren is well-known, and there are many who would smile inwardly if Jason were to meet with an unfortunate end along the way.  So stay alert, guys.

    But hey, meals and lodging don’t come free, and the countryside inns don’t know what a credit card is.  So there’s always time to roll a couple drunks in an alley and relieve them of their assets, right?  We’ll even stash of the money away.  After all, nobody in this strange land has heard of a pension plan either.

What’s To Like...
    Not Quite Scaramouche takes place in an alternate universe that has sword-&-musket technology, wizardry, and fantasy creatures such as dragons, orcs, elves, and dwarves.  It is the ninth book in a 10-volume series, and this was one of the few times where I felt I was really missing a lot by not having read the series in order.

    I liked Joel Rosenberg’s treatment of the dragons.  They’re powerful and telepathic, but not omnipotent and are in fact on the verge of extinction.  The magic system is nicely done, and having a wizard in your midst certainly widens one’s options in a fantasy world.  But it too has its limits, and doesn’t overwhelm the medieval setting and world-building.

    The text is witty, particularly the thoughts and words of my favorite character, the Imperial Proctor Walter Slovotsky, who is one of the people who “fell through” from our world to this one.  The ending is both twisty and imaginative.  I have no idea what the titular "Scaramouche" reference means, even after consulting Wikipedia.  There is some cussing, and sexual references; prudes should stay away from this one.

    There’s a ton of intrigue, but almost no action.  Indeed, the only two bits of excitement were the rolling of the drunks (perpetrated by the good guys!), and the sniffing out an assassin-in-hiding.  I was also disappointed in the fantasy creatures, apart from the dragon.  The elves and dwarves were stereotypical, the oft-cited orcs never make an actual appearance.  That’s about it for the fantasy critters; everybody else could be found at your local Renaissance Fair.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Solecism (n.) : a breach of good manners.
Others :  Swive (v.); Kinesthesia (n.); Conoid (adj.); Geas (n.); Twigged (v.); Billy (n.; short for ‘Billycan’).

    Splitting your forces was, whether you were part of an army or just a pair of comrades, always something to be approached with caution.  At least Kethol would have Ahira to watch his back.  Pirojil would have Erenor, and while Erenor wasn’t entirely useless in everything, his swordsmanship was pitiful, striving towards weak, and not striving very hard.  He was a perfectly fine hand with a flintlock pistol, of course – as long as he had the muzzle of the weapon pressed tightly against the target.  (pg. 137)

    A little embezzlement here and there was no problem, as long as it was only a little.
    And if it was too much?  A governor could be hanged for embezzlement just as legally as a peasant could be hanged for poaching.  The trick was to hang him only if necessary, only if a governor made a pig of himself, to encourage prudence in the others.  You didn’t want the other governors spending more time fiddling with their books than watching for signs of brewing rebellion.  (pg. 164)

“... if pigs had wings, they’d be pigeons.”  (pg. 254 )
    The lack of action made Not Quite Scaramouche a slow read.  But even worse was the lack of a storyline.  Jason and his band of heroes roam around the countryside, Slovotsky contends with plots, counterplots, and courtly subterfuge, and a couple missing persons – one good, one bad – turn up at unexpected times.  But when you finish the book, you realize that it was all lint and no story threads.  It was almost as if Joel Rosenberg wanted to move some of the characters around, but couldn’t think of a tale to go with it.

    Perhaps this is because this was my introduction to the series.  Maybe the other books have more action.  Maybe if I’d known more about the various players in the battles of intrigue, I’d have a better appreciation of the subtle maneuverings.  But when I pick up a book with a cover showing three badass heroes riding atop a menacing-looking dragon, I’m going to expect fighting, bloodshed, a bunch of otherworldly creatures, and an epic storyline.

    It's also possible I picked the wrong book to become acquainted with this author.  To be fair, Joel Rosenberg’s wit, musings, and writing style save this book from being a waste of the reader’s time, but only barely.

    5 Stars.  Add 2 stars if you’re reading this series in order.  Or not.  By this time, you’re a better judge of how good it is than me.

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