Author: Graham Edwards
Publisher: Solaris Books
Release date: March 26, 2014 (U.S., Canada), April 10, 2014 (U.K.)
Whenever I take up a new book, these days, it’s with a little trepidation. I don’t have a lot of time, and I put down at least half of the books I start. That said, the core idea of Talus and the Frozen King by Graham Edwards intrigued me: a Bronze Age detective, along the lines of Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple. I like historical fiction, I like fantasy (and though not fantasy, the Bronze Age is reminiscent of it in some ways), and I like procedurals.
Talus and the Frozen King jumps right into the story, with Talus and his companion, Bran, making their way to the kingdom of Creyak, where they quickly become embroiled in the mystery of its murdered king. From there, the story unfolds very much like a classic mystery, as Talus uses his keen observational skills and knowledge of human nature to unearth the secrets of the island kingdom. Graham outlines the relationship between Talus and Bran early, but leaves room to explore it as the book goes on, and the mystery itself has enough twists and turns and ongoing revelations to keep it moving. The king had multiple sons, any of whom could have committed the crime. Throw in romantic entanglements, a mysterious Shaman, and a rival ruler who may or may not have designs on Creyak, and there are a lot of possibilities.
The writing is straightforward, focused more on relationships and the central mystery than on the day-to-day details of Bronze Age life. I would have liked the culture and world fleshed out a little bit more – the setting, after all, is part of the appeal – but admittedly this might have slowed down the action. Graham does touch on the atavistic worldview of the people of Creyak, and the beliefs and doubts of Talus and Bran, but though we get some back story – especially regarding Bran and the central tragedy of his life – I would have liked more. As it was, though I enjoyed the characters and setting of Talus and the Frozen King, they weren’t as vivid as they could have been.
The novel is first and foremost a mystery, though, and in this it is an unqualified success. I enjoyed the disconnect between Talus’ analytical approach to problem solving and the magical thinking of the people of Creyak, and sometimes even Bran. Talus is a man who thinks that problems – including murder – can be solved through observation and investigation – something that we all believe, today, but in the Bronze Age those beliefs set him apart. In the world of Sherlock Holmes, though his methods and persona may be unusual, it’s taken for granted that murders should be solved, rather than accepted, and that punishment should be meted out on earth, rather than in the afterlife. The world of Talus is one without police or a criminal justice system, which makes Talus and the Frozen King unique. The mystery is well-paced, with information meted out in chunks; I found myself at times pausing to try and piece things together, partially because I wanted to gauge how successful the book was as a mystery, but also because there was enough clarity in how the clues and suspects were presented that trying to figure it out seemed feasible; this speaks highly of Graham’s ability to craft an interesting, logical mystery that readers can enjoy either actively or passively. In the end, my guesses were a bit off, but not completely, and I didn’t feel that the resolution was contrived, or was something that I couldn’t have figured out along with Talus: that’s exactly what I want from a mystery.
Though I would have liked a little more depth and complexity to the setting and characters, I highly recommend Talus and the Frozen King to anyone interested in a fast-paced mystery with a unique setting. It’s a solid book, a good read, and I look forward to the sequel.