Weston Ochse, Seal Team 666. Titan Books, 2013. Copy courtesy of Titan Books.
This book’s prologue begins with a thinly-disguised fantasy fictionalisation of Seal Team 6’s assassination of Osama bin Laden, in which the unnamed bin Laden figure is portrayed as sincerely and knowingly in league with demonic forces.
Me, personally, I found this immensely disrespectful towards any understanding of Islam. Look, lads. Leaguing with demons? Charged by Protestants against Catholics and vice versa. But there are no demons in Islam. The only power a “devil” has is to lead men and djinni away from the straight path:
He said: “Give me respite till the day they are raised up.”
(Allah) said: “Be thou among those who have respite.”
He said: “Because thou hast thrown me out of the way, lo! I will lie in wait for them on thy straight way:
“Then will I assault them from before them and behind them, from their right and their left: Nor wilt thou find, in most of them, gratitude (for thy mercies).”
(Allah) said: “Get out from this, disgraced and expelled.”
(Sura 7, Al-A’raf.)
And when continuing on from that in the next chapter, there was no attempt at explaining why there’d be demons involved, and it also proved rather dull – well, I have a lot of other things to read. A lot. So I stopped, and I do not intend to go back.
Jon Courtenay Grimwood, The Outcast Blade. Orbit, 2012.
I may rag on “grimdark” fantasy a lot, but I like a good bit of gritty darkness as much as the next person – as long as it’s leavened with moments of emotional warmth and somewhat ethical choices. In The Outcast Blade, sequel to The Fallen Blade, JCG continues the story of Tycho, ex-slave turned knight, a trained assassin who craves blood under the moon; the sixteen-year-old noblewoman Giulietta, widow, key political pawn – or player – and the dark and troubled Venice of this alternate, fantastical, 16th-century Venice.
Caught between the Holy Roman Empire’s army and the Byzantine fleet, with scions of both empires offering for Giulietta’s hand in marriage, Venice, Tycho, and Giulietta are all in an uncomfortable position. One made more complicated by the dangerous rivalry between the regents for the mad/idiot Duke Marco: his mother, Alexa, aunt to the Mongol khan, and his uncle Alonzo. Tragedy, treachery, and international politics collide…
It’s a very good, very tightly written book. It never forgets the agency of its women, and its Venice is home to a wide range of people – Mongols and Mamlukes, rabbis and gravediggers, noblewomen and street children. I enjoyed it a lot, and I anticipate its soon-to-be-published sequel with some eagerness.