The Lascar’s Dagger by Glenda Larke is one of those novels that sort of defies assignment to a particular category. On one hand, it has lots of interesting and unique concepts about magic and religion that surely makes it a fantasy. But on the other, it focuses more on political intrigue and personal betrayals than on fantastical creatures or otherworldly powers, and so it reads more like historical fiction. The simple fact is that The Lascar’s Dagger is something in-between, reminding me a lot of Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni novels – which is not a bad thing in my proverbial book.
The tale itself focuses on a priest named Saker Rampion, who also serves as an undercover agent for the Pontifect of the Va-Faith (Think Pope of the Catholic Church here). While out on a fact finding assignment, Saker runs afoul of another agent, gets into a brief fight and winds up with the lascar’s dagger. A magical item that refuses to leave his side even if he abandons it or throws it into a bay. (Think Percy Jackson’s sword Riptide.) Thereafter, Raker is reassigned to a new mission as the spiritual adviser to the prince and princess of the Kingdom of Ardrone, where our young priest finds himself immediately embroiled in court politics and other things even more insidious.
Inadvertently joining Saker Rampion in Ardrone is a young woman named Sorrel Redwing. This lady was unhappily married and grieving after her dead daughter before the murder of her husband. Thereafter, she finds herself on the run from the law, desperate to save herself from the avenging wrath of her husband’s rich family. Eventually, Sorrel is run to ground at a holy shrine, where she finds her savior in Princess Mathilda of Ardrone as well as her gift from the gods. Soon after, our wanted young woman finds herself ensconced at court, using her god-given gifts as a spy for Mathilda while becoming well acquainted with Saker Rampion.
From the meshing of Saker and Sorrel’s individual stories, Glenda Larke pens an interesting tale that focuses on political scandals and betrayals, the insatiable lust for exotic spices and gold, and the eternal conflict between the godly forces of good and evil. While all this is done without non-stop action, it is still enjoyable, and the fact that Ms. Larke spends most of her time focusing on characterization should not be a deterrent to picking up this entertaining tale. For in place of those sword fights and magical battles, a reader is gifted with a fully developed world, populated with interesting characters, and soon, every person upon the pages is someone you know, gifted with their own unique background, likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, and reasons for their actions. Saker Rampion, for instance, might be the main character and hero, but he is nowhere near a white knight in shining armor and has numerous weaknesses that cause him to appear selfish, arrogant, stupid, and naive at various points in the novel. The same can be said of Sorrel Redwing, who has her magical blessing but also her own foibles – including steadfast loyalty to Mathilda, who is at best a naive princess and at worst a conniving, self-absorbed brat. But that is okay, because Raker and Sorrel’s flaws make them so very easy to identify with and throughout the story, they grow, becoming more than a sideshow upon the pages but rather living, breathing people.
So while I tend to lean toward more action packed fantasy fare, The Lascar’s Dagger was a nice change of pace. One I could truthfully recommend to my reading friends who want a slow, detailed political fantasy. This novel might not be filled with dazzling duels, sorcerous battles, or zombie apocalypses, but it has enough intrigues, scandals, betrayals, and magical elements to keep a fantasy fan turning the pages. Plus it has all those unique and interesting characters.
I received this book from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank both of them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.