Published: March 20th 2014 by Gollancz
Format: Paperback, 336 pages
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Lucien de Fontein has grown up an outsider; one of the Orfano, the deformed of of the Kingdom of Landfall. He is lonely, tormented by his difference and a pawn in a political game. The reclusive king and his majordomo rule Landfall from the vast castle of Demesne, but the walls are no barrier to darkness from without. Or within.
Landfall is a harsh world of secrets and rivalries, where whispers are as lethal as blades, where control is fragile and the peace waits to be broken. Lucien will have to rely on more than just his blade to protect the ones he loves.
Oh my! I really liked The Boy with the Porcelain Blade. It is an admirable début with nuanced characters, an exciting plot, and clever execution, although I feel like it was let down by the world-building.
The titular boy in The Boy with the Porcelain Blade is Lucien, an orphan who, along with the other Orfani of Landfall, is afforded the very best education and training alongside the noblili despite his deformity. Each of them is afflicted in different ways: one girl can’t speak, another boy has spines on his hands, and Lucien has no ears and black fingernails. They don’t bleed red. This group is utterly fascinating and I loved getting to know them. They each deal with their unique position in different ways, and I think that Patrick has very cleverly written a whole story about these privileged outcasts.
The writing style of the book alternates between showing us Lucien’s final testing at 18 and the events that unfold afterwards, and showing us key moments from Lucien’s life from when he was 13. The effect is to create a dimensional, relatable character who I couldn’t help but like. When readers first meet Lucien, I think it would be very easy to overlook him as spoilt, arrogant, and petulant. As the book progresses, however, it becomes clear that he is much more than that, and he has seen things that no one of his age should have seen. Lucien is very smart, and puts his considerable intelligence and wit into navigating the dangerous political waters of Landfall.
There’s a great mystery in The Boy with the Porcelain Blade: no one knows where the Orfano come from. I think it’s a brilliant plot point, because the clues are peppered throughout the narrative and I loved collecting them all and trying to figure it out. The truth, when it’s revealed, is horrifying and captivating at the same time, and is haunting my imagination even now.
This book is mostly a character driven book, and although I have enjoyed it a lot, I can’t help but feel that the world-building has suffered because of the attention the characters have gotten. The action of the story is set in the sprawling castle of Demesne, and only briefly ventures outside its walls. I have no real sense of the rest of the world. Why are they speaking in Italian? Is the story even set on Earth? Is it in the future? The past? An alternate world? Not knowing the answers to my many questions didn’t really hamper my enjoyment of the book, but I certainly would have had a fuller experience if the answers had been provided. Maybe I’ll find out in the next book!
The Boy with the Porcelain Blade is a vividly painted tale that will capture your imagination. I loved the characters and the plot, but ultimately feel that the world-building aspect could be improved. I think Den Patrick has made an commendable entrance into the fantasy genre and am looking forward to reading the rest of The Erebus Sequence.