Maledicte is the debut novel of Lane Robins, who is writing a loose sequel to this book that takes place in the same world but features different characters. Since all the loose ends are tied up in Maledicte and the story arc definitely feels like it has a conclusive ending, it works well as a stand alone book. The concept and plot of this character driven fantasy were not particularly complex, but it was very readable and kept me turning the pages to find out what happened next.
The Earl of Last has no heirs other than an illegitimate son Janus, whom he captures unwillingly from a life in the slums and teaches the ways of the court. Miranda, Janus’s childhood friend and lover who is left behind, runs away to the temple of Black-Winged Ani, the goddess of love and vengeance. The people no longer believe in the gods, yet when Miranda leaves the temple she has a mysterious black sword and a thirst for vengeance that will not be quenched. She disguises herself as a young man, takes the name of Maledicte, and vows to find Janus and his father. (Note: From this point on, Maledicte will be referred to as a male since he has shed his identity as the woman Miranda – and that’s how it was in the book.)
While searching for the Earl of Last, Maledicte intrudes in the home of the sickly Baron Vornatti, who also harbors animosity for the earl after he slandered his sister’s name. Lonely and intrigued by the handsome youth, Vornatti coerces him into staying the night in his house with the aid of his servant Gilly, who slipped a drug into Maledicte’s wine that put him to sleep. Vornatti teaches Maledicte the ways of the court, where he becomes a controversial figure with his poor temperament yet manages to win the favor of the king. Maledicte awaits the arrival of Janus and his reaction to him – if Janus no longer loves him, he will kill him, but if he does, he will include him in his plans for revenge.
This is a story for those who enjoy flawed characters – perhaps flawed is even a bit of an understatement. The main character is Maledicte himself with a lot of focus on Gilly and some on Janus. Maledicte is possessed by the goddess, giving him a penchant for bloodlust, and he is selfish and not a particularly nice person due to the fact that he kills rather easily. He only cares about Janus and Gilly, with whom he forms a friendship early in the story. However, his motives are at least somewhat understandable since he is driven by Black-Winged Ani’s desire for vengeance and there are a few times when he shows glimmers of human feeling. Janus is even less likable than Maledicte and has no excuse other than greed and a desire for power. The most likable character is easily Gilly, who is generally good but still far from perfect. Gilly loves Maledicte but tells him he will not kill for him, yet he often finds himself committing actions he disagrees with morally in order to protect Maledicte. (Janus also hates Gilly because of his feelings toward Maledicte and would kill him if not for the fact that it would displease Maledicte, which makes him seem even more despicable.) Even though I enjoy reading about anti-heroes, I found I had real empathy for Gilly and liked reading about him the most.
The plot, court intrigue, and character relationships were very uncomplicated, making this an easy and fun book to read. The writing style is more convoluted, bordering on what many would refer to as purple prose, but I did not think it was excessive (of course, I like more verbose writing as long as it is not to the point of being so descriptive it is boring).
The perspective is always third person, although whose perspective it is changes often. At times, it is Gilly, occasionally it is Maledicte himself or the king or even for a short time that of Kritos, the man who actually stole Janus away from Maledicte by order of the earl. Some may find this distracting but it did not bother me at all.
At times, I did find myself questioning character actions. Why would the baron take in an intruder who just appears in his home one night? Why would a nice guy like Gilly be so enamored of Maledicte when he was so evil at times? Why would the king and many other court members be so fascinated by Maledicte when he is so disagreeable and disobedient to the rules? Mostly, I thought they made sense after some reflection, though. The baron was alone other than Gilly with an illness that confined him to bed a lot so he was probably glad for the company, especially after finding out their common enmity for the earl. Gilly was an empathic person and had the gift of seeing the gods’ work so he knew what a large part of Maledicte’s problem was even when others did not and would have been the type to want to help him. As far as the king and some women of the court go, I suppose Maledicte was somewhat mysterious, although I’m not finding the answer to that question comes as easily as the other two.
Maledicte was a dark tale containing some characters I grew very attached to, although they did not seem to contain great depth. I did feel that the story was lacking something I cannot put my finger on in its simplicity, but it was a good debut novel and I am looking forward to reading the next book set in this world.