Imperial Spy

Author: Mark Robson
Simon & Schuster
RRP 6.99
ISBN 1 416 90185 X
Available 04 February 2006

Following the overthrow of the pretender Emperor and the end of a disastrous war with its neighbour Thrandor, the empire of Shandar finds itself at a crossroads in its development; its new Emperor, General Surabar, is not of noble blood, creating dissent amongst the established ruling class. Against this background Femke, an imperial spy, is chosen to act as ambassador to the court of Thrandor, but Femke has other problems. During the fall of the previous regime, Femke had bested and professionally embarrassed Shalidar, a member of the Guild of Assassins. Now she must journey to a potentially hostile country not knowing when and where Shalidar will strike...

Imperial Spy is the new novel by Mark Robson, not to be confused with the gent of the same name who directed Earthquake and Von Ryan's Express. Having previously found success with his Darkweaver series of books, Spy is the first book in his Imperial series. I never read the first four books, but did look them up and was a little perturbed to see that they were rated for the 10+ age group. So, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that Spy wasn't just another teenage sword and sorcery juvenile paint by numbers effort.

The narrative is well constructed, with the many plot twists growing out of the unfolding design. It was nice to read something which didn't lay down the plot threads like Trans Atlantic power lines so that you have worked out the whole book by page fifty. If you want to get the whole story then you'll have to read to the end. The book contains a nice little map, though to be honest it's somewhat redundant as the action only really takes place in two locations, possibly it's included for the following two books which will hopefully open up the world and make it seem a bigger place.

Characterisation is well thought out, with the various players having their own voices and motivations. At first, when I thought that this was more juvenile fare, I thought that the choice of a young woman as the main protagonist was a strange one, as those type of books are usually aimed at teenage boys. However, I found the character of Femke very engaging. Robson cleverly avoids either portraying her as weak and girly or as a testosterone poisoned She Hulk. She is portrayed as a complex character reacting naturalistically to her circumstances.

Only one character lets the book down and that is the assassin Shalidar, who is drawn with a little too heavy of hand, making him come over more like a Victorian music hall villain.

The book felt more of a medieval novel than sword and sorcery; whilst there are mentions of wizards luckily we don't encounter them allowing the action to remain firmly focused at the human level.

So, over all, a good book which I found most engrossing, it even got past my personal dislike of silly similar sounding names - Surbar confronting Shalidar in Shandar - more like she's sells seashells on the sea shore. Even given that, I look forward to reading the next two in the series.

Charles Packer

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