Maledicte: Blood-red wine in a crystal goblet

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook reveiw Maledicte Lane RobinsMaledicte by Lane Robins

There have been several reviews of Maledicte that make comparisons to Jacqueline Carey. Some say Maledicte is a cheap imitation, and others that Maledicte is far too good to be compared with Carey’s work. I’m not enough of a literary critic to tell you who is the better writer, Jacqueline Carey or Lane Robins, but I will say that I’m not surprised the comparisons are cropping up. I’m a big fan of Carey and I’m always looking for beautiful, lush, sensual dark fantasy that scratches the same literary “itch.” I rarely find it. Here, I’ve found it.

Maledicte tells the story of a young woman from the slums, Miranda, whose sweetheart is stolen away by his noble father. Miranda swears revenge upon the nobleman and disguises herself as a man in order to move more freely through the country’s aristocracy.

As Miranda, now Maledicte, pursues retribution, Lane Robins does a great job of showing how Maledicte’s quest begins to grow in complexity. Her moral and ethical qualms surface just as her aims begin to require more blood and as her choices become more irrevocable. Meanwhile, her love life also grows tangled; her lover Janus is not quite as she remembers him, and her friend and servant, Gilly (who believes her to be a man) falls for her. Also excellent is the way Maledicte always holds our sympathy, nearly losing it from time to time but always keeping it in the end, despite her violent acts.

This is a lush fever-dream of a novel and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys the intermarriage of arch, beautiful prose and visceral themes.

~Kelly Lasiter


fantasy and science fiction book reviewsMaledicte is Lane Robins‘ debut novel about Miranda, a street urchin whose best friend Janus is the bastard son of the King’s brother. Janus has been reclaimed from the streets, and therefore stolen from Miranda, because his father has no legitimate heir. Miranda, in her grief, makes a deal with an evil god (who everyone thought was dead), gets a scary-looking sword, and sets out for vengeance. She manages to enter noble society dressed as a boy (named Maledicte) under the patronage of a lecherous old man, the only one who knows her secret.

The publisher’s description of the book (see above) is misleading. First of all, the court is not “seething with decadent appetites unchecked by law or gods.” It’s just your average king’s court full of gossiping courtiers. Not seething, and no more decadent that any other court I’ve ever read of. There really wasn’t much political intrigue either. Then enters “a handsome, enigmatic nobleman, Maledicte, whose perfect manners, enchanting charisma, and brilliant swordplay entice the most jaded tastes…” He may have been handsome (not very well described), but I didn’t find him (her) particularly enigmatic, enchanting, or charismatic. His manners were not at all perfect (which was the only reason I could find for the courtiers to consider him enigmatic), and his swordplay was not brilliant. Really, (s)he was just an sulking angsty girl trying to be bad, and she didn’t seem so bad to me at first. I couldn’t really understand why her behavior was so scandalous because all she did was draw her sword and mouth off to a couple of nobles. I think it was supposed to be witty mouthing-off, but I found it rather obnoxious. If the court was really seething in decadence and intrigue, Maledicte’s behavior shouldn’t have caused such a scandal. To me, the court seemed like a bunch of priggish gossips who were blown away when Maledicte acted like a spoiled brat.
I just wasn’t convinced. And I was bored with Maledicte.

Then, just as I’m thinking that this book is not as bad as it wants to be, suddenly Maledicte starts murdering people ruthlessly, a drive instilled by a god. This god (and the other apparently dead gods) were not well described, so I had a hard time understanding or relating to this. In fact, not much was well described — not the city, the court, the house where Maledicte lived, or the political and religious systems. The only motivation of Maledicte’s that was described was his/her constant drive to kill Janus’s father (whose name is Last), which seemed a bit unrealistic to me. All the father had done was to take his bastard son off the streets and raise him to be a nobleman. Not really a reason to murder Last.

And, we get no back-story on the relationship between Miranda and Janus, either. I never saw Janus as “the lover whose passion still haunts her dreams” since I never saw any dreams or passion until they were reunited. Again, I wasn’t convinced that this was realistic behavior. Maledicte keeps on murdering people (and not very cleverly—she just jumps them at convenient moments) and shows no remorse or internal conflict. This goes on and on an on and I found myself searching for some reason to like Maledicte and some reason to care what happens to him/her. But I couldn’t — (s)he was utterly unlikeable all the way to the end. In fact, only two characters were likeable: Maldedicte’s servant Gilly, and the king. But, both of them fall in love with Maledicte, even after seeing him murder people with no remorse. I had a hard time believing that, too.

But Maledicte is mostly very well written, and for that reason I think Lane Robins has a promising future as a writer. Sometimes the writing was over-done, resulting in vagueness, and points of view shifted unexpectedly, causing occasional confusion. The novel is character-driven, yet most of the characters were not as well fleshed-out as they should have been and I had a hard time understanding what drove them. But, all in all, the writing was better than a lot of what I’ve read by authors who have been publishing for decades, and I think I will pick up the next book that Lane Robins writes. I just hope it won’t be about Maledicte.

~Kat Hooper


book reveiw Maledicte Lane RobinsSet in a Victorian-like backdrop, complete with aristocracies, a budding industrial revolution, and such debaucheries as prostitution and drug addiction, Maledicte reminds me somewhat of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series, mainly because of the similarities between the books’ use of court intrigues, meddling gods and sinful eroticism. Even more so, I’m reminded of The Count of Monte Cristo due to such shared themes of transformation, love, and vengeance. And with certain plot developments I even saw shades of Romeo and Juliet as well as other Shakespearean dramatics, while the legends surrounding Black-Winged Ani, “god of love and vengeance,” actually brought to mind The Crow comic books and adaptations. Despite all of these resemblances and the familiar subject matter, Maledicte possesses its own voice and offers some fresh perspectives to what might otherwise be considered stale material, though I think readers will either love or hate the manner in which the book is told.

Basically, Maledicte is a character-driven melodrama that revolves around the title character, a girl and street urchin who’s trying to pass off as a male aristocrat in her quest to recover her lover Janus and avenge his kidnapping. More or less an antihero, Maledicte is interesting to follow, partly because of his/her clashes between his/her male/female personas, the compact with Black-Winged Ani — the benefits/downsides of such an alliance, the price owed when terms are fulfilled, and how much of Maledicte’s single-minded vengeance is of his own doing or the god’s — and of course Maledicte’s machinations within the Antyrrian court, which provide some of the book’s finest moments. Of the supporting players, there is Baron Vornatti and his servant Gilly who prepare Maledicte for the court and aid him in his subterfuge, Michel Ixion earl of Last and subject of Maledicte’s wrath, the aforementioned Janus, Lady Mirabile, King Aris and his three counselors, Kritos, and various others who all play a part in the drama that unfolds.

For a book that is driven primarily by its characters and their interactions with one another, there were some issues that I had with the characterizaton. Stylistically, Maledicte is told from a third-person point of view, mainly following Miranda/Maledicte while Gilly, King Aris, and Kritos also provide narratives. Truthfully, it’s difficult to discern who all of the major players are at first, since the viewpoints jump around so haphazardly in the beginning, and this could be a problem for readers starting the book, though thankfully it gets better as the novel progresses.

Secondly, was Miranda’s powerful thirst for revenge and her feelings towards Janus, which are never really clarified until later in the book, and then done so in a manner lacking any emotional impact. Personally, I felt that some backstory or opening scenes explaining Janus and Miranda’s affections for one another, and further details of their pasts, would have greatly benefited the novel since Miranda’s quest for finding Janus is obviously pivotal to the book. This would also help readers better visualize Miranda and Janus’ evolution from street urchins to courtiers, which are only hinted at throughout the novel. Specifically, I felt that the scenes involving Baron Vornatti, Gilly and Miranda’s training should have been expanded on, giving readers the chance to see Maledicte becoming an aristocrat, rather than the truncated versions that we get. I also felt that certain motives and actions of other characters could have been better explained, providing greater effect to the emotionalism that the story is trying to convey.

With so much focus on the characters, what about the rest of the book? Well, if you’re a fan of worldbuilding, then I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere, since the kingdom of Antyre is sparsely described with little information provided on its history or current events. Of the larger world, only the foreign kingdom of Itarus and the uncivilized Explorations are touched upon, and these just slightly, while even the gods — Baxit, Ani, Naga, Espit, Haith — have little mythos revealed about them despite their relevance to the story. Even minor details like the description inside a house or palace, or the layout of the city is practically nonexistent, which can be detrimental to the story at certain moments. As far as the prose, Ms. Robins’ writing is uneven, at times elegant and beautiful, at others, clumsy and confusing… not unexpected for a first-time author.

Despite all of these issues, I have to say I enjoyed reading Maledicte. If you can overlook the lack of worldbuilding and exposition, the inconsistencies of the writing, and the occasional soap opera-like moment, there’s a lot to like in Maledicte, including Machiavellian characters, erotic tension, sharp and witty dialogue, an up-tempo pace, sinister supernatural forces and a melodramatic plot that twists and turns until its touching conclusion, which basically wraps up the story, while leaving enough threads to be explored later on. Sure, it’s no Kushiel novel or The Count of Monte Cristo, but for a debut, Maledicte is respectable and showcases potential, especially in the case of the talented, up-and-coming author Ms. Robins who I think will have a lot more to say in future releases.

~Robert Thompson


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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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ROBERT THOMPSON (on FanLit's staff July 2009 — October 2011) is the creator and former editor of Fantasy Book Critic, a website dedicated to the promotion of speculative fiction. Before FBC, he worked in the music industry editing Kings of A&R and as an A&R scout for Warner Bros. Besides reading and music, Robert also loves video games, football, and art. He lives in the state of Washington with his wife Annie and their children Zane and Kayla. Robert retired from FanLit in October 2011 after more than 2 years of service. He doesn't do much reviewing anymore, but he still does a little work for us behind the scenes.

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One comment

  1. I got to the “horse-and-four” and quit.

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