Wednesday, August 22, 2007

"Maledicte" by Lane Robins

"Seething with decadent appetites unchecked by law or gods, the court of Antyre is ruled by the last of a dissolute aristocracy. But now to the kingdom comes Maledicte, a handsome, enigmatic nobleman whose perfect manners, enchanting chraisma, and brilliant swordplay entice the most jaded tastes...and conceal a hunger beyond reckoning.

For Maledicte is actually a woman named Miranda - a beautiful thief raised in the city's vicious slums. She will do anything - even promise her soul to Black-Winged Ani, the most merciless of Antyre's exiled gods - to reclaim Janus, her first love, whose kidnapping still haunts her dreams. As her machinations strike at the heart of Antyre's powerful noble houses, Miranda must battle not only her own growing bloodlust but also Janus's newly kindled and ruthless ambitions. As Ani's force grows insatiable, Miranda has no choice but to wield a weapon that may set her free...or forever doom her and everything she holds dear."

This entire book brings to mind that infamous quote "Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive". The crux of this piece is Miranda's charade as Maledicte, a thing that starts out of practicality and ends in near madness.

Miranda and Janus are Relict rats, teens who have grown up in one of the worst areas of Antyre. They steal for a living, such as it is. One night an obviously wealthy man rolls up in a carriage; they set upon him when he walks into the alley, only to find themselves outwitted. The man is none other than the cousin of the Earl of Last, a man now in need of an heir. Janus is illegitimate, but he'll do, and Kritos abducts the boy, leaving Miranda with what he believes are mortal wounds.

A short time later, an unknown boy is found and taken in by Vornatti, a nobleman in Anytre. Along with his servant, Gilly, they attempt to clean, feed, and clothe the young man. However, once Vornatti discovers the "boy's" true identity, he offers to help her in her quest for vengeance; she has sworn to herself and Black-Winged Ani that she will kill the Earl of Last. Vornatti trains her in the ways of the court, in swordplay, and in other, more delicate matters, namely that of blackmail and revenge. When he becomes too demanding, though, Miranda/Maledicte removes him as a potential obstacle to her vengeance, thus beginning the trail of bodies she/he will leave in her/his path.

It sounds simple enough, doesn't it? And yet this is a very well-written, cleverly plotted piece. It goes so far as to describe Miranda as Maledicte throughout most of the book, so that the reader almost forgets that he is really as she. When Mal does find Janus (much earlier in the book than I had expected), their relationship is described as that of two young men rather than a young man and woman, again allowing the reader to fall into the trap. When Miranda starts to realize how much she's been taken over by Ani's bloodlust and need for revenge towards the end of the book, it's clear that she's not quite sure who she is anymore. It's also clear that she's not entirely sure who she loves anymore, either, as Gilly, the servant, becomes her friend and perhaps her only chance at sanity.

This is, I believe, a debut novel by Robins. I have to give the author credit for undertaking such a complicated work as her first. It holds up quite well, only dragging in a spot or two, and has such well-developed characters that I felt as if I was there with them. "Maledicte" is truly enchanting and should not be missed.

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