Diplomacy of Wolves - The Secret Texts, Book 1 by Holly Lisle
(Orion Millennium, £16.99, 332 pages. Hardback published 21 January 1999.)
Another fantasy book with the dreaded words "First book in an epic sword and sorcery series" plastered all over the press release. Doesn't anyone write stand-alone fantasy stories nowadays? As first books in a series go, Holly Lisle's Diplomacy of Wolves (Book 1 of "The Secret Texts" series, just so you know) is not bad. It's not wonderful, either, but at least Lisle shows some facility with words, understands that she needs to get right down to the action and get the story moving. She can also construct interesting characters that might just live in the reader's memory for long enough to keep them buying subsequent volumes (which is the trick in this part of the market, right?).
The heroine of Diplomacy of Wolves is Kait Galweigh, a junior diplomat set the task of keeping her foolish cousin from disgracing the family in the run-up to the cousin's arranged marriage into another important family. Kait discovers a plot in progress against her family, which turns out to be even more devious than she first thinks, but endangers her in particular, since she has her own secrets that she has been trying to keep from the world. As the story unfolds, Kait finds herself on the run, and looking for an ancient artefact that may be the only way to save her family and herself. All pretty standard fantasy fare, really.
If there is anything about Diplomacy of Wolves that gives me reason to look forward to another episode in Kait's story, then it is the vigour of Lisle's writing, which is well-paced and doesn't waste time with inconsequentialities. If there is anything that puts me off, it is the slightly arbitrary nature of the set-up -- I'm not sure I believe in a world that can manufacture airships (or 'airibles' as Lisle calls them) but whose ships are plain old sailing vessels (surely the same technology that gives an 'airible' its motive force would be put to use immediately on ships?) and who still fight primarily with swords and archery. There is a mismatch between technology levels that Lisle never addresses, and that irritates.
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© John D Owen 17 April 1999