Saturday, December 08, 2007

Sung in Blood, by Glen Cook

Sung in Blood
Glen Cook
Night Shade Books: 2006
originally published 1990

The city of Shasesserre has enjoyed three hundred years of peace, both within and from without, because of the actions of a magician named Jehrke. Through Jehrke, all villains looking to disrupt the peace of Shasesserre have been foiled. Until Jehrke is murdered and his son, Rider, is the only one who can find the killer and continue to protect Shasesserre - whether or not the rulers of Shaseserre wish his help and protection.

Rider, along with his band of merry misfits, begin the investigation and encounter strangers wishing harm to Shasesserre, black magicians, gnarly men, and more.

Glen Cook is a talented writer with a vivid imagination and a gift for describing characters, action, and setting in a simple manner that engages the reader instantly. Sung in Blood shows little evidence of this talent. The descriptions in Sung in Blood are heavy handed and obvious.
All through the night assassins moved. They were not many, but their ways were stealthy and cunning. Never were they so direct or crude as to employ a frontal attack with steel. p 124
Jehrke had known all Shasesserre's leading men, so his son knew them, too. This mansion belonged to one Vlazos, currently posted to the western army for his year in five of public service. p 23
These are two examples of Glen Cook flat out telling the reader detail rather than somehow having the detail flow organically out of the story. The sense of flow is certainly a difficult thing to achieve, but in Sung in Blood the detail and explanation and often times even the action were so over the top obvious that I forgot that Glen Cook's name was on the cover of the book.

Cook tries to blend action, fantasy, and humor together, but unfortunately it all feels forced. Some of the humor works, one joke at a time, but taken as a whole there is never the easy comfort one might find in the harsher world of The Black Company.

There is a sense about Sung in Blood that it could be either a shorter and less developed draft of a longer novel, or that the novel could be an expanded version of a novella or novellette. The sense that I have about Sung in Blood is that the story would be better be served by a shorter story, by condensing the narrative and tightening it. Considering Sung in Blood is 172 pages of story, this may seem odd, but there is not quite enough story or description to fill out those pages. The stranger thing is that the novel just kind of ends. Was this supposed to be the first book of a planned duology or series, because rather than setting up a second book Sung in Blood feels incomplete.

This has been a difficult review to write because after reading Glen Cook's Black Company novels I have such a high opinion of the man's work and finding very little to praise about Sung in Blood is disappointing. Honestly, the best three things about the book are Glen Cook's name on the cover, Bob Eggleton's beautiful (as always) cover art, and the binding / construction of the book itself (it is a nice physical piece of work and Night Shade should be happy with whichever company they pay to print / bind their books).

The back cover of the book has this to say:
Long out of print and impossible to find, Sung in Blood blends the exhilaration and excitement of Doc Savage, the devious villainy of Fu Manchu, and the thrilling swords and sorcery action of the best high fantasy escapades.
Perhaps if Sung in Blood was published in Asimov's or F&SF as a longer story I might be more charitable, but as a novel, as something to pay money for, Sung in Blood simply does not pass muster.

Reading copy courtesy of Night Shade Books

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