The Reliquary Ring
(Macmillan, £10.99, 424 pages, trade paperback, published 21 February
Cherith Baldry's The Reliquary Ring is set in an alternate future
Venice--lagoons and palaces, masked balls and music, but also technological
flyers, cloning and such. In the culturally sealed world of this watery
city, human beings are the norm, while genics, designed by geneticists
and created outside of a mother's womb, are a reviled underclass that
cannot even be touched. The atmosphere of this novel is that of a BBC
costume drama, all flouncy dresses, silk and masks, with the men striding
melodramatically, suffering, or acting from vile impulse. This is no
bad thing. The setting is dense and believable, with ladies constantly
being scandalized (the buzz-word of this book) while their men joust
in various political forums.
The characters, however, are the hook. The various Counts and Countesses
are well differentiated and interesting, but they are not half so interesting
as the genics, all of whom are fascinating. Hyacinth is a virtuoso musician,
Serafina a determined seamstress who turns into a reluctant, though
effective, heroine, Gabriel is a homosexual painter, while Allesandro
is to all intents and purposes a human, until he is exposed and reduced
in stature in one of the most effective scenes of the book. Then there
are the dark and mysterious sea-genics, who are tolerated because they
control the sea that threatens to flood Venice. One flaw is Count Dracone,
the scarlet-clad villain, who is perhaps too villainous to play his
part here; a little more detail on why he became the fiend that he is
would have been helpful.
Readers who yearn for well-written, literate, atmospheric fantasy that
doesn't feature massed battles and orcs will find much here to enjoy.
Review by Stephen Palmer.
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