ARABESK: Pashazade, Effendi and Felaheen
In this review, I’m going to write about the willing suspension of disbelief. Perhaps more precisely, I’m writing about the intersection of world-building and the willing suspension of disbelief. Enter Jon Courtenay Grimwood and the ARABESK trilogy: Pashazade, Effendi and Felaheen.
In Grimwood’s world, the Ottoman Empire never collapsed. Woodrow Wilson brokered peace between London and Berlin in 1915, World War II never happened, and the major world powers seem to be Germany, France, the USA and the Empire. This alternate timeline stretches a few decades beyond current time, but in terms of fashion and technology, there’s nothing the science fiction reader won’t recognize. It’s the social, political and economic things that are differe... Read More
Jon Courtenay GrimwoodJon Courtenay Grimwood grew up in the Far East, Britain and Scandinavia. Apart from writing novels he works for magazines and newspapers. For five years he wrote a monthly review column for The Guardian. JCG’s novels Felaheen and End of the World Blues, won the BSFA Award for Best Novel. He has been shortlisted twice for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and shortlisted for the British Fantasy Award, the August Derleth Award, and the John W Campbell Memorial Award. He is married to the journalist and novelist Sam Baker, editor of Red. They divide their time between London and Winchester. Learn more at JCG’s website. Read Marion’s interview with Jon Courtenay Grimwood.
Arabesk — (2001-2003) Publisher: Part mystery, part speculative fiction, and wholly unforgettable, Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s celebrated Arabesk series portrays the dark, hard-boiled story of a man out to prove his innocence in an alternate world where the facts aren’t always the same as the truth… and murder isn’t the worst that can happen. It’s a twenty-first century hauntingly familiar — and yet startlingly different from our own. Here the United States brokered a deal that ended World War I, and the Ottoman Empire never collapsed. And lording it over all sits the complex, seductive, and bloodthirsty North African metropolis of El Iskandryia. Almost nothing is what it seems to be in El Isk, and Ashraf Bey is no exception. Neither the rich Ottoman aristocrat everyone thinks he is, nor the minor street criminal once shipped off to prison when he fell foul of his Chinese Triad employers — the fact is that Raf has as little idea who he is as anyone else. With few clues and no money, all Raf has is a surname hinting at noble heritage and an arranged marriage to a woman who hates him. But nothing Ashraf al Mansur learns about himself is as unexpected — or as terrifying — as the brutal murder he’s accused of committing. Now, as a hunted man with the welfare of a precocious young girl in his irresponsible hands, Raf must race after a killer through an unforgiving city as foreign to him as the truth he’ll uncover about himself.
ARABESK: Pashazade, Effendi and Felaheen
The Assassini — (2011-2013) Publisher: In the depths of night, customs officers board a galley in a harbor and overpower its guards. In the hold they find oil and silver, and a naked boy chained to the bulkhead. Stunningly beautiful but half-starved, the boy has no name. The officers break the boy’s chains to rescue him, but he escapes… Venice is at the height of its power. In theory Duke Marco commands. But Marco is a simpleton so his aunt and uncle rule in his stead. They command the seas, tax the colonies, and, like those in power before them, fear assassins better than their own… In a side chapel, Marco’s fifteen-year old cousin prays for deliverance from her forced marriage. It is her bad fortune to be there when Mamluk pirates break in to steal a chalice, but it is the Mamluks’ good luck — they kidnap her… In the gardens beside the chapel, Atilo, the Duke’s chief assassin, prepares to kill his latest victim. Having cut the man’s throat, he turns back, having heard a noise, and finds a boy crouched over the dying man, drinking blood from the wound. The speed with which the boy dodges a dagger and scales a wall stuns Atilo. And the assassin knows he has to find the boy… Not to kill him, but because he’s finally found what he thought he would never find. Someone fit to be his apprentice…
The Fallen Blade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
CLASSIFICATION: Combining alternate history with the supernatural, The Fallen Blade is kind of like Jasper Kent’s Twelve and Thirteen Years Later crossed with Anne Rice’s vampires and Underworld’s lycans, written in the style of Glen Cook.
FORMAT/INFO: The Fallen Blade is 464 pages long divided over two Parts, sixty-three numbered chapters, and an Epilogue. Also includes a map, the Millioni family tree, Dramatis Personae, an interview with the author, and an excerpt from Read More
The Fallen Blade by John Courtenay Grimwood
The Fallen Blade is set in an alternate version of early 15th century Venice, ruled by the Milioni family, who are descendants of Marco Polo. Jon Courtenay Grimwood offers a vividly realized fantasy setting with this not quite historically accurate but still surprisingly realistic version of “la Serenissima,” the Serene Republic of Venice. You’ll get many authentic looks at what life in this amazing city-state must have been like, from the perspectives of both the rich and the poor. As a matter of fact, readers who are unaware of the changes Grimwood has made to the actual history of Venice might mistake this for a historical novel with fantasy elements, rather than a combination of alternate history and dark fantasy. Regardless, the setting of The Fallen Blade is one of its real strengths.
It’s unfortunate that... Read More
The Fallen Blade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s The Fallen Blade is Act One of the Assassini Trilogy. You can enjoy this intricate historical and political fantasy with its nuanced, layered characters on its own, or you can follow the Shakespearean references that glint throughout the work like a silver thread in a tapestry. The choice is yours.
It could be argued that The Fallen Blade doesn’t need any more intrigue, even if it is Shakespearean. Grimwood set his story in Venice at the beginning of the 15th century; perhaps the most politically complex city-state in a complex, turbulent era. Besides internal political struggles that are labyrinthine, elegant and cruel, Venice also has to fend off hungry invaders and outsiders from everywhere. Alliances are as evanescent as morning mist, loyalty is fleeting and honor a ... Read More
The Outcast Blade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
I have good news and bad news about The Outcast Blade, the second book in Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s ACTS OF THE ASSASSINI series.
The good news is that the book is as captivating as its predecessor, The Fallen Blade. It’s a heady brew of magic, military strategy, politics, mystery, betrayal and love. Grimwood’s descriptions of Venice are grounded rather than lyrical, creating a living city that is gritty and fantastical, beautiful and frightening, breathing in history and breathing out magic.
Stone steps disappearing under dark water were a common occurrence in Venice, where such runs helped adjust for tidal differences. Most of the water steps in the island city were algae-green and slippery underfoot. The steps up to the fondamenta, the stone-lined embankment at... Read More
The Exiled Blade by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
But the real battle was with himself. All the battles that really mattered were with yourself.
Jon Courtenay Grimwood ends The Exiled Blade, book three in his Acts of the Assassini series, with a spectacular three-act battle, and a wedding. This is a pleasing, sad, and haunting ending to his alternate history fifteenth century Venetian tale, where political intrigue and martial prowess function side by side with shape-shifters, demons and magic.
At the end of the second book, The Outcast Blade, Duchess Alexa, Regent of Venice, had prevailed over Duke Alonzo and was preparing to have him exiled. Giulietta and Tycho, the demon-orphan hero of the trilogy, were together, and were happy. It didn’t seem like there was anywhere left for the third book to go, but by page 36 Grimwood has pulverized Giulietta’s and Tycho’s chances for happin... Read More
Stamping Butterflies by Jon Courtenay Grimwood
I picked up John Courtenay Grimwood’s Stamping Butterflies because Marion thinks so highly of his work and I thought a stand-alone novel which has just been released in audio format would be an ideal introduction to the author. While I found much to admire about Grimwood’s style, I didn’t enjoy Stamping Butterflies as much as I expect to enjoy some of his other work.
The non-linear three-pronged plot of Stamping Butterflies is ambitious. One part takes place in modern-day United States where Gene Newman, the charismatic U.S. President, refuses to collaborate on a space mission with the Chinese until their government addresses its human rights issues. A sniper, concerned about a Chinese-American partnership, attempts to kill Newman in Marrak... Read More
Jon Courtenay Grimwood was born in Malta and grew up in Southeast Asia, Norway and Britain. He won the British Science Fiction Association Award for best novel in 2003, for Felaheen, the third book in his ARABESK trilogy, and again in 2006 for End of the World Blues. His work has been described as post-cyberpunk and “alternate future.” Confounding the labelists, Grimwood has set his current trilogy, THE ACTS OF THE ASSASSINI, in an alternate 15th-century Venice. Book Two, The Outcast Blade, was released today, and Grimwood is working on the final volume. He took time out of his busy writing schedule to answer some questions about the series, and the process of writing, for Fantasy Literature.
[Warning: If you haven’t read Book One, Read More