Black Cross by J P Ashman
You know how it is, you set out to do the right thing, to make a difference, to improve the lives of people and it all goes mammary glands upwards. In the world that J P Ashman has created, that is exactly what happens. The consequences of this selfless, helpful act serves to drag in all the races of the world into a crisis.
Black Cross is a “medieval Europe society” based Fantasy novel where the human race is beginning to experiment with black powder. Against this backdrop, the author brings in the typical fantasy races; elves and dwarves, but the most evil of all remain the humans. It is the human race that has created and given power to a tyrannical church and its inquisition, created a religion based on the denial of freedom, a hate of magic, and a need to be controlling.
Opposing them are the Clerics and Wizards in their tower. The clerics are healers, of no particular religion, more those whose magical skills relate to healing and whose scientific knowledge, of anatomy, of herbs and medicines, allow them to treat the sick. The wizards are the wielders of destructive power, searchers and researchers of knowledge.
One of my favourite devices in this story is the bookworm. A magical worm that searches through books, looking for the knowledge requested by the wizard and then transmits it to the caster. It works very much like search engine for the web, a google worm. It was charmingly written and provided a nod to the modern world, and widening of the magical repertoire of the people. The wizards here wield magic, that’s what they do, there are no complicated rules and structures. Cast a spell, get tired – it is simple, it works and doesn’t distract from the story.
There are two main plotlines to track through the book.
In the first we follow Falchion, a man named for the sword he carries, as he carries out his orders and unwittingly sets going a chain of events that will lead to many deaths. He is a military man, a fighter, a warrior, and through his eyes we travel the world beyond the main city. I liked him. He is a good man, staying true to his beliefs and trying to do his best. He is surrounded by friends, who have their own personalities, and that camaraderie is a strong point.
In the second, we follow two mysterious policemen / detectives, who are trying to solve a crime. Their investigation leads deeper into the underworld of the city. Both these men have their own past and powers, they are surrounded by others who seem to have abilities beyond the normal range – a very Special Special Branch of the police force, if you will permit. There is also, along this track, an assassin’s point of view, a young girl and an abused prostitutes. That you can feel for all these characters is a mark of good writing.
The story is well handled and there are, thankfully, no info-dumps (I don’t like info-dumps). To be critical, I think the first third of the book is a little slow before takes off and starts moving at a fair ol’ clip. There are a few typo’s and strange sentences, but not many and I know it has been re-edited since so there are probably even fewer (or even none) by now and anyway they didn’t drag me out of the story or interrupt the flow. My last criticism is points-of-view, sometimes these changed mid-chapter and were well handled, but sometimes mid-paragraph which jarred a little. Minor points, not even at the level of grumble.
However, if you want to read a traditional fantasy story with characters you can care about, a story that develops the world and hints at a greater threat, where a central theme is the State versus the Church, then this could well be for you. Oh, and BBFC fashion, this book contains scenes of sexual nature, torture and strong language.
I enjoyed it, you probably will too!