Lucan Drakenfeld is a member of the Sun Chamber, the CSI unit of the Royal Vispasian Union. Drakenfeld is given a letter that tells him of the death of his father, and he must return to his home after ten years abroad. He and his partner, Leana, are soon tasked to investigate the murder of the sister of King Licintius of Tryum in what would prove to be the biggest case of Drakenfeld’s career, and he soon finds himself fighting off thugs and other unpleasant characters as the conspiracy unravels.
Mark Charan Newton’s world is inspired by ancient Rome, with baths, cohorts, and one especially brutal horse-race that seems to be a combination of a gladiatorial match and a chariot race. While the world is Romanesque, it has its own distinct feel because of the presence of magic and the fear of that the average citizen has in a society where magic is dark and practiced by the daring or insane, and often involves spirits and ghosts of some sort. The magic is definitely a background detail, hinted at more than being shown, but it helps create atmosphere in Drakenfeld, which could be classified as a “crime fantasy.”
Lucan and Leana are fun to follow, very much a Sherlock and Watson tandem, that is, if Watson could take down a group of thugs before you had time to blink. Leana is badass. The book is told in the first person, through Lucan Drakenfeld’s eyes. This means the story has no chance to be bogged down by jumpy perspectives. First-person perspectives are often hard to write, but when an author is successful with it I think it’s a much more effective and immersive way of telling a story that has a small cast.
I don’t read mystery or crime novels often, but when I do read one or even watch a detective TV show, such as BBC’s outstanding Sherlock, it’s fun to try to solve the crime before the detective does, through subtle clues or simple guesswork. There were quite a few twists in Drakenfeld, making it pretty hard to guess what was going to happen, though there’s a point where Lucan makes an observation to himself that essentially solves the crime for the reader without directly announcing it.
Not every story has to have its own completely unique and original world. Sometimes taking inspiration from a past era works out better than creating a new world, and Mark Charan Newton proves that he can do both with Drakenfeld and his debut series, LEGENDS OF THE RED SUN.