The Lascar's Dagger Author: Glenda Larke Series: The Forsaken Lands Publisher: Orbit, March 18th, 2014 Format: Trade Paperback and eBook, 512 pages Price: $15.00 (print) ISBN: 9780316399661 (print) Review Copy Provided by the Publisher
Faith will not save him.
Saker appears to be a simple priest, but in truth he's a spy for the head of his faith. Wounded in the line of duty by a Lascar sailor's blade, the weapon seems to follow him home. Unable to discard it, nor the sense of responsibility it brings, Saker can only follow its lead.
The dagger puts Saker on a journey to distant shores, on a path that will reveal terrible secrets about the empire, about the people he serves, and destroy the life he knows. The Lascar's dagger demands a price, and that price will be paid in blood.
The Lascar's Dagger converted me. I'm now a follower of Glenda Larke. The Lascar's Dagger is the first book in Larke's new series, The Forsaken Lands. This is her second series of books. It's my first introduction to Larke's writing, but like I said I'm a fan and will be seeking out her other books as soon as I finish this review.
In this book, we follow a young priest, Saker Rampion, who also works as a spy in the Pontifect's spy network. While spying on the neighboring country's trading company he runs into Ardhi, and during an escape inherits Ardhi's magical dagger. From that point on, it appears the dagger is leading Saker on its own mission, which at times parallels Saker's newest mission to be the spiritual adviser to the prince and princess while keeping an eye on the court chaplain. Saker's a young and charming priest/spy and even though his youthful inexperience gets him in trouble throughout the book you still find him engaging as a hero. A secondary plot also involves Saker seeking information about his parents.
The two other characters we follow throughout the book are Sorrel Redwing and Ardhi. Ardhi is about a year or two younger than Saker and comes from the southern Spice Islands. It's his dagger that finds its way into Saker's hands. Ardhi is on a special mission to retrieve a stolen object of great power from his homeland that in the wrong hands could topple kingdoms. He recruits Saker in this mission and even helps Saker develop his own god-given talents. Sorrel Redwing is a woman with a secret who had to give herself over to Va, a god, in return she is given the power of glamour, the ability to change or hide her appearance. Sorrel also finds herself under the protection of the princess and soon is put to work as her highness’s own personal spy at court. While at court, Sorrel comes into contact with Saker and acts as a voice of reason and at times savior to the spy/priest. Ardhi is a mysterious character for the majority of the story, but is likeable nonetheless. Sorrel is a mystery to the other characters of the story but readers will quickly understand her and sympathize with her, her struggles and the predicaments she finds herself in. She ended up being my favorite character of the book.
The pacing of the book is quick without skimping on the details of Larke's fleshed-out world. It takes place in a time comparable to the 15th - 16th Century. The wider world is opening up. There are two kingdoms in the north, with an uneasy peace, both similar to the European countries of the time. They also share the same religion and god, Va. The islands to the south are more exotic and mysterious than the north. Larke leaves out a lot of detail about the south, which helps make it more mysterious to the reader, but it has a South American/Asian feel to it. The southern islands have a variety of spices to offer, and the two northern kingdoms are racing to see who can control the spice trade first. There's plenty of political and economical intrigue for those who love that in a book. I like a moderate amount myself and never found myself bored or lost. This is a strictly human-only fantasy world so far.
The highlight in Larke's world-building for me was the religion. There are two gods. The one we learn about the most is called Va and the religion is called the The Way of the Oak and Flow. One kingdom focuses on the Oak or trees and the other on the Flow or waves. This is the first major nature-based religion I've encountered in a fantasy book and I just couldn't get enough of it. It's still very familiar with other fantasy religions in setup and governance, but the heart and soul of it is unique and refreshing. Another subplot involves the religion and the opinion of some of the priests that the religion needs to change to a more city-friendly religion and move away from nature as civilization makes more advancements in science, while another faction wants the opposite. The lesser known god is A'Va and we don't learn a lot of it other than it's the opposite in every way to Va. It's very fascinating for those of us who enjoy a very rich religious system instead of your basic cardboard cut out.
The magical system is also interesting. It's based off of religion more than being a separate academic magical system. I don't want to give it away, as the discovery of how the system works is a lot of fun. Let's just say it's not widespread or open to just anyone.
My only complaint of the book is it takes awhile before the real story appears to start. We meet each of the characters at the beginning of the story and they each start to progress in their individual stories, but Saker in particular doesn't have an overarching story until the end of the book. Before that, he seems to be interacting with all the other characters in their individual side stories. As Saker is the hero of the story, I felt he should have had a major plot throughout the entire story instead of acting as a connector to the other character's side stories.
The Lascar's Dagger is a fast-paced engaging read. Glenda Larke has created a world worth exploring, with characters you can connect to. The violence is minimal as well as the use of adult language. There are sexual situations. I would recommend it to older young adults and adults. I'd also recommend it to anyone who likes rich world-building, unique religious/magic systems and well-developed characters, especially strong female characters.