Lucien de Fontein has grown up different. One of the mysterious and misshapen Orfano who appear around the Kingdom of Landfall, he is a talented fighter yet constantly lonely, tormented by his deformity, and well aware that he is a mere pawn in a political game. Ruled by an insane King and the venomous Majordomo, it is a world where corruption and decay are deeply rooted - but to a degree Lucien never dreams possible when he first discovers the plight of the 'insane' women kept in the haunting Sanatoria.
Told in a continuous narrative interspersed with flashbacks we see Lucien grow up under the care of his tutors. We watch him forced through rigorous Testings, and fall in love, set against his yearning to discover where he comes from, and how his fate is tied to that of every one of the deformed Orfano in the Kingdom, and of the eerie Sanatoria itself.
Now what to call this one? Most of the action takes place in a castle, like 95% of the book (makes me think of Mervyn Peake). There is somewhat of a Gothic Darkness over the whole castles area. A king who no one sees and who seems to be immortal. People going missing and of course the Orfanos. The king has ordered that they should be treated well so they are all in "school". Some of these Orfanos are very deformed while some like Lucien got lucky, he has no ears, but it ends there. They, the nobles, and everyone really have their own intrigues and lots of backstabbing going on here.
The whole fantasy feel is also different. The world is Italian of a sort, but then some names and myths are mentioned. It made me think that a bunch if Italians got on a ship and got ship wrecked on a mythical island. And there they are stuck, for all time and we can't find them. And island of their own horror.
The book is told through flashbacks of his life growing up and the tests he had to take. And present time when he gets into trouble because of something I will not mention. The end is open in a way, it has a conclusion for him, but I do wonder about what happens next.
I liked it. At first I was not sure about the flashbacks cos I really wanted to know what would happen to Lucien, and not see what happened before. I do hate waiting. But I can live with that ;) A different sort of fantasy when it's not easy to really stick out.
Paperback, 336 pages
Published March 20th 2014 by Gollancz