The Thorn of Dentonhill
by Marshall Ryan Maresca
Dear Mr Maresca,
Please write faster, because I am addicted to your books. Thanks!
"Thief!" a heavy voice shouted from the door.
That's rich, one of them calling me thief, Veranix Calbert thought. He had only arrived seconds before. He hadn't had a chance to steal anything yet.
So starts The Thorn of Dentonhill, and when Veranix gets the chance to live up to his nickname, he has no idea how much trouble he's about to start.
I enjoyed Maresca's other book, A Murder of Mages, so much that I immediately picked up this one. While The Thorn of Dentonhill falls much more into the realm of traditional fantasy, it was still a lot of fun. The TL;DR version: if you're thinking of trying Maresca, I definitely recommend A Murder of Mages overThe Thorn of Dentonhill, but if you've already read the former, then this is the story behind Minox's 25th (or was it the 26th?) unsolved case. That alone should be enough to sell you on this one.
Why do I recommend Murder of Mages over Thorn? Well, while the protagonists of the former are refreshingly nontraditional--a non-romantically-interested male/female copper pair, both with large and living families, one with kids and a husband, and with no distressed damsels in sight--Thorn has a far more standard setup. Veranix is an orphan (with technicalities), and has dedicated his life to revenge against the man who destroyed his family. Not only is he a powerful mage, but he is also an expert archer and a peerless acrobat. He goes to a school for mages, where he both excels and gets into trouble, and is aided in his endeavors by a studious roommate, a kindly professor, and a beautiful, exotic, equally tragically orphaned girl. Add in a war on drugs, a society of street gangs, a set of powerfully enchanted objects, and a constantly-injured hero protagonist, and things start sounding a bit too familiar. Okay, so the setup isn't going to win any originality points. But even so, Maresca is an incredibly entertaining writer, with snappy, amusing dialogue, constant action, and plenty of comic relief. A few of my favourites:
"I can't get the rope off the tree," Pendall said. "So I'll get the tree off the rope."
"How bad was it?"
"Three real pros," Veranix said. "An arrow almost missed my leg."
"You want to do some crazy magic thing and you need your crazy magic things on a day when the crazy magic is right. Great."
The only part that really bothered me was the inclusion of a rather uncreative racial angle; apparently the citizens of Maradaine are light-skinned and prejudiced against those of darker skin. Really? With a whole world to play with, Maresca had to go with that? The problem, to my mind, is that when you invoke such a powerful issue, you need to actually engage it. Maresca really doesn't, and the treatment of racism is superficial and glancing. Even so, however, the whole story is just plain, pure fun. Added bonus points: you learn a ton about the city and the world of Murder of Mages, and just how clueless Minox and the constabulary actually are.
If you're looking for a lighthearted high-fantasy adventure with nary a quest or Great Destiny in sight, I'd definitely recommend Maresca, although I'd strongly suggest taking a look at Murder of Mages and coming back to this one when you realize you may be addicted. The bad news: apparently there won't be a new book for a while. Darn. I may just have to go back and reread Murder of Mages while I wait.