“Evidently, though, the pope was as scared of my monstrous grandmother as I was. In the end it took four nuns at once to even get me told off. I let everyone who would listen know how much I regretted my deeds. But up until the point that the New World entered the conversation, it was all a lie. I never could resist a woman in a wimple.”
Synopsis: “The New World” continues the adventures from Lawrence’s “The Red Queen’s War” trilogy. Jalan and Snorri are brought together again for mysterious reasons, but when dangerous secrets threaten their ship’s voyage to the New World, will the pair be able to avert disaster?
It’s good to be back! “The Red Queen’s War” features my favorite characters from Lawrence to date, and it’s a pleasure to revisit the series in a different way. This particular novella takes place several years after the conclusion to the trilogy, and it is important therefore that I warn you there will be some spoilers in this review. I will do everything I can to mitigate them, but please don’t say I didn’t warn you. “The New World” is not available on its own, but is included with the beautiful special edition omnibus from Grim Oak Press (I haven’t gotten my hands on this one yet, but I likely will…). Judging from “The Broken Empire” omnibus, which I do have, true collectors will want to get a copy of this before they’re all gone. The quality of these versions tends to be impeccable, sturdy and well-bound, and I highly recommend them. It’s a good value.
“The New World” takes place almost entirely on a ship, as our protagonists make a journey to The New World (basically the remnants of North America). For those new to this setting, “The Broken Empire” and “The Red Queen’s War” take place on Earth over 1000 years from now, where humanity’s hubris led to catastrophe; at the time of the narrative the world has technologically regressed quite significantly, but humanity has also discovered magic. It’s quite an interesting take, as Lawrence is fond of utilizing his scientific background in his fiction; one can find stories here of necromancers accompanying the same spaces as mathmagicians and quantum theory.
Jalan, now a Cardinal, is being sent away by the Pope for having fornicated with 4 different nuns and creating a scandal… or so it seems. Along for the journey are his faithful companion Snorri the viking, and Omar the mathmagician among others. A great deal of the appeal in “The Red Queen’s War” came from Jalan’s complete lack of interest in doing anything other than drinking and womanizing, and then being swept into dangerous conflicts of world-shaking importance; “The New World” seems to follow this formula as well, though in a smaller scale. It is impossible to avoid drawing comparison to the Grey Mouser and Fafhrd characters of Fritz Leiber, but there is a significant enough difference between these characters and our protagonists that the similarities should be viewed as an homage. Snorri, as always, acts as the perpetual comedic “straight man” in their relationship: he is their moral compass, and tends to bring out the best in Jalan. Omar takes this sort of relationship to the next level, because while he does play the straight man for Jalan as well, he does not have the same level of bond/trust with him that Snorri does. This can at times lead to catastrophic and hilarious misunderstandings. The rest of the supporting cast is passable, and while the primary antagonist can hardly be called revolutionary, his quirks and personality make him fairly engaging. Lawrence has done good work here as usual, especially given the limited space with which to do so.
While the plot of the story was interesting, it (ironically, given that this was the tale of one journey), doesn’t really go anywhere. Characters leave Point A, some stuff happens, they arrive at Point B, and we are left with a cliffhanger. Lawrence addresses this himself at the beginning of the text with the following:
“Author’s Note: This is the beginning of a new Jalan and Snorri book I started writing, but it also makes a nice reasonably self-contained short(ish) story. The book may get finished one day, and it may even get published, but I have a lot of projects on the go, so it won’t be any time soon. Enjoy!”
To be honest, it’s a bit of a shame! By the end of the narrative, one’s appetite is pretty whetted for the rest of the story, and it simply isn’t there! One can only hope that there is enough interest generated in the story that Lawrence will revisit the narrative soon.
Overall, while the story feels more like a fragment than a self-contained narrative, I still thoroughly enjoyed it and wholeheartedly hope that Lawrence will take up his pen (or keyboard) in the future to continue tale! This was great fun. In the meantime, if for some reason you have yet to peruse “The Red Queen’s War”, please do yourself a huge favor and give these books a chance. These are “grimdark” fantasy novels that aren’t afraid to have the occasional laugh to break the tension, replete with interesting characters and earth-shaking events. You would be doing yourself a great favor in trying them!
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