The Crown of the Blood (Gav Thorpe) is an old-fashioned sword and sorcery romp. There's not a great deal of sorcery, but there's lots of fighting and plotting and planning to conquer.
It's a fun book overall, if you like old-fashioned fantasy worlds with politics and conquering. It would be a much more fun book if it had women. Most female characters are wives and the scenes with them are all about placating mostly-absent husbands and enduring fairly uncomfortable-sounding sex. Each time a new branch of the society or a new society was introduced I held my breath, hoping that this would be the one with fully-functioning normal women. It's OK, after all, to build a society where women are so inferior they do nothing except provide support functions - it can reflect a type of society, albeit one I dislike. It's legitimate worldbuilding. To have every single society operating like that in a novel that covers a wide geographical and more than one is just a bit unreal. No women in the rebel plot? No women in anything religious? No women who trade? Who think? Only women who serve or who serve as sex objects? Or bear boys for the furthering of everything good and glorious? Even where there is true love, it's mainly expressed through a slightly improved but still very secondary status for the woman.
I exaggerate a little. On p. 235 we find a woman who has a job ('loremother' - later it turns out that loremothers are midwives) - 235 pages is a long wait, and the loremother only has a walk-on-walk-off part. This is my big bugbear with this novel. This book is scared of girl germs.
Having said that, there's a bunch of good stuff in it*. As I said, it's a fun book. This book is for readers who want a blast from the past; who want their hour of adventure in a strange world. The Crown of the Blood even has the adjective-heavy descriptions of evil religious bods, right there at the beginning. It's not deep or meaningful, but it's a decent read, for people who like a bit of army action and politics with just a tinge of magic to while away their time. Not a book I loved, but not bad for all that. The girl germs aspect, however, was seriously annoying.
Andy Remic's second volume of The Clockwork Vampire Chronicles (soul stealers) ought, in theory, also have problems with girl germs. Except it doesn't. Despite it also harking back to sword and sorcery (with added clockwork and vampire) men and women are equal. Mostly equal in despair, but equal.
Remic still doesn't seem to like any of his characters or want to give them even a moment's peace, but his despite is egalitarian. In fact, he shows that it's perfectly possible to write a grand scale story of this kind with women in. My faith in mankind is restored.
Remic's writing style hasn't changed much since the first volume of the series. Often over the top, with occasional tough humour. This novel is a steampunk rollercoaster, with clockwork vampires and rococo trimmings.
One of the reasons it works so well is because Remic has a fine time playing with language. Another is because he grounds all the wild crazy plot and setting in people who are given moments of mundanity. The opening, for instance, is all about fishing with one's granddaughter. A simple incident, talking about the function of bait, leading right into a moment of peril where bait is key. Nice structure. Also clever. We start off feeling compassion and warmth and we're going to need every inch of compassion and warmth and the humour between some of the characters we can get to ride the roller-coaster. Apart from the moments of mundanity, it's not a subtle book. This is, however, part of its charm.
I like this better than Thorpe's mainly because I can see those contrasts more clearly. I need quiet moments and funny moments and human beings like me. I need to hold onto them before the screaming begins and I need a shoulder to cry on when it gets too much. And I like to know that the characters have a shoulder to cry on, too, just occasionally.
Perhaps Remic manages the mundanity better, this time round. It means his pacing is better and his world more alive. There are occasional over-explanations (especially when we're informed that vampire machines are vachines), but they're minor nuisances only. It would help to read the first volume first, but even if you think it a bit frenetic, hang in there and get to this and then decide if you like it. Since it ends on a whacking great cliffhanger, you might as well decide for the next novel while you're thinking about it.
Remic's world has more appeal to me than Thorpe's. It tells the story in a way I can relate to, perhaps and it certainly includes some rather lovely language. Better writing helps, for certain, but the characterisation is significantly better than Thorpe's, too. And more rounded worldbuilding. Even when there's not a dream of a woman in sight, there's somehow the feeling that they're just out of sight - not secondary, just not there. When they appear, they have real roles and are not simply adjuncts to make sure men get sex and can sire heirs. This novel and de Bodard's are two quite different ways of exploring a masculine world and writing characters without actually annoying stray feminists. Without annoying this stray feminist, anyhow - I can't speak for others.
Remic's book makes me think of BDs from the eighties. Maybe it's time I re-read those French cartoons. It's a good sign, isn't it, when reading one book instantly leads to re-reading something you've enjoyed, something equally over-the top, colourful and large?
*just as long as you ignore the girl germs problem. Which I obviously couldn't.