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A Fun Fantasy Makes for Light Reading: The Silverblood Promise by James Logan


A Fun Fantasy Makes for Light Reading: <em>The Silverblood Promise</em> by James Logan

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A Fun Fantasy Makes for Light Reading: The Silverblood Promise by James Logan

A review of James Logan's new epic fantasy novel.


Published on June 4, 2024

Cover of The Silverblood Promise, showing a cityscape with a crowd gathered in front of a large building, with two figures observing from a roof, one of them holding a crossbow

James Logan is an open pseudonym for James Long, editor at Orbit Books in the UK. The Silverblood Promise is his debut novel, the opening volume of a trilogy (“The Last Legacy”) whose protagonist, Lukan Gardova, is the kind of man found in the remains of burned buildings explaining how that inevitable disaster couldn’t possibly have been his fault, no, seriously. Fortunately, Gardova is almost as charming a protagonist as he wants to be, and—also fortunately—Logan is aware that his charms, such as they are, are unlikely to work on anyone outside of the radius of chaotic impulse control and tendency to attract destruction.

Gardova is a gambler and a drifter, the disgraced—thanks to a duel gone wrong—heir of an old and impoverished noble house. Estranged from his father, he has no real profession and no fixed address. When an old childhood tutor tracks him done to tell him his father has been murdered under mysterious circumstances, leaving behind a three-word message written in his own blood (“Lukan, Saphrona, Zandrusa”), Gardova promises to find out the reasons behind his father’s death, and bring the killers to justice.

His only lead is that single message, which directs him to the wealthy city of Saphrona. There, he encounters the pre-teen street-thief Flea, who he adopts (or who adopts him) when he catches her trying to pick her pocket, and learns that Zandrusa is a person, a former smuggler who became one of Saphrona’s merchant prince rulers. Unfortunately, Zandrusa has just been sentenced to death for the murder of a fellow merchant prince, her political ally. To even so much as speak to her, Gardova needs to infiltrate an impregnable prison. Fortunately, he’s sufficiently persuasive (and Zandrusa is sufficiently well-liked) that a well-respected forger in Saphrona’s criminal underworld is willing to assist him.

It turns out that Zandrusa knew Gardova’s father in his younger days. It also turns out that she’s kept an artefact in her private bank for him for years, to be handed on to the younger Gardova after the elder’s death. Alas, when her execution is finally carried out, her political enemies are likely to seize all of her property. If Gardova wants to receive this mysterious inheritance, he’ll have to investigate Zandrusa’s enemies, and prove someone else guilty of the murder in order to prove her innocence. His only lead is Zandrusa’s knowledge of her enemies and her memory of frost on the body—a hint that something out of the ordinary was wrong, and one that the examining physician might remember.

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The Silverblood Promise
The Silverblood Promise

The Silverblood Promise

James Logan

As Gardova stumbles in and out of trouble, falling over hints that all is not as it seems, having buildings burn down on him and interrogating mercenaries in order to follow politicians to secret meetings in underground catacombs where they explain (part of) their plans, it becomes plain that politics aren’t just carrying on as usual in Saphrona. Legendary figures—the terrifying Faceless—whose origins have been lost to history—have been summoned, and certain factions mean to start a war. Of course, no sooner does Gardova find this out than he falls foul of Saphrona’s criminal underworld and its ruler, the Twice-Crowned King, while finding an unexpected ally in Ashra, a renowned thief who goes by name of Lady Midnight and who has the reputation of being able to walk through walls. In the end, Gardova does get his relic, only to find what it contains is pointing him to yet another bank vault in yet another city, the mystery of the elder Gardova’s death, relegated to the background for the majority of the novel, no closer to a solution.

The Silverblood Promise is vivid and colourful, set in a world with a vibrant depth of history, complex politics, interestingly weird magical artefacts, and fascinating secondary characters. Its setting feels expansive in the best way, full of incident and possibility, and one with egalitarian gender relations. (Even if I didn’t notice much in the way of queer characters on the page, and found the murderous criminal conjoined twins a little unpalatable in the absence of other prominent disabled characters who weren’t erratically murderous.)

My first impression of The Silverblood Promise was how much it reminded me of a videogame. Further exposure deepened this initial sense: The protagonist, stirred from his daily round by an unexpected change, follows a narrow trail to characters who provide him information and assistance because, coincidentally, their interests align with his—or he’s in the right place to uncover a journal filled with useful information, or to overhear an entire secret meeting, or to form an alliance with the city’s most infamous thief. Fiction is built upon meaningful coincidences, it is true, but often the artifice of the coincidence is concealed, lampshaded by introspection or occluded by the occasional red herring that matters to thematic argument and character development, but does not produce results in line with the characters’ intentions. Logan’s Lukan Gardova moves in a straight line towards his goal, rarely thinking about his own motivation or indeed all that much about other people’s, and as a result the narrative is one far more concerned with artifice and colourful incident than with introspection, interiority, or character development.

Part of the appeal of a videogame is often that the player can project themselves onto the player-character, who is often something of a cipher in order to better reduce the friction involved in such a projection. Lukan Gardova seems to me similarly straightforward: The Silverblood Promise is a novel with breadth, but not depth, skimming like a striking butterfly over the surfaces of the fantasy genre. It glitters, but its impact is fleeting.

This is very effectively constructed light entertainment, slick and enjoyable, but I prefer mine to have more heft and weight, more of an argument about something, than I found in The Silverblood Promise. icon-paragraph-end

The Silverblood Promise is published by Tor Books.
Read an excerpt.

About the Author

Liz Bourke


Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, was published in 2017 by Aqueduct Press. It was a finalist for the 2018 Locus Awards and was nominated for a 2018 Hugo Award in Best Related Work. She was a finalist for the inaugural 2020 Ignyte Critic Award, and has also been a finalist for the BSFA nonfiction award. She lives in Ireland with an insomniac toddler, her wife, and their two very put-upon cats.
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