Brimstone and Treason review

Book: Brimstone and Treason
Author: Caroline Dunford
Publisher: Manatee Books
ISBN: 1-900048-07-8

Reviewer: Wyrdmaster

Caroline Dunford has provided fiction for the SLA Industries roleplaying game and for Wizards of the Coast. The back of Brimstone and Treason describes that relationship as “their ideas, her words” and so I suppose this novella is a chance to pick up some of her ideas and her words. The book’s a novella, shorter than a novel but longer than a short story. I think it’s a fun length; it’s the size of book that you’d read one sunny weekend or use to counter the boredom of a long trip. This works well for Brimstone and Treason because it’s a fun book, fantasy and humour together.

Fantasy and humour have been going strong for a while now. Prachett might immediately spring to mind and to be fair there are Prachett-esq moments in Brimstone and Treason. Enchanted coals really want to burn the carpet they’ve just been spilled on to – but know better to chance their luck with powerful mages around. There’s an almost secret third ingredient that seems to have been added to the mix and it’s this which gives Brimstone and Treason its particular flavour. If you want, if you look, it’s possible to read sly touches of feminism in the book. After all, the heroine Anja only has 14 days to solve the Demon’s Quest if she wants to undo the transmogrification spell on archmage Damian. This isn’t a case of the brave wizard saving the girl; it’s the other way around. The demon’s involved might appear to be twenty foot tall and have impressively huge equipment but they’re actually just little squirts. It’s the other way around for a busty and apparently rather vain courtier, she turns out to be made of sterner stuff that we might first suspect.

Brimstone and Treason is good at fooling first suspicions. There’s less than a hundred pages in the novella but there are plenty of surprises. In fact, it’s the surprises which drive the plot along. The unexpected strikes and just when that jolt begins to fade there is another unexpected revelation. I don’t want to use the phrase “plot twist” here. It’s not right. The plot in Brimstone and Treason doesn’t twist. There’s the transmogrification to sort out and then the culprits to deal with. The novella doesn’t twist out of this at all. It just doesn’t go from start to finish with the characters playing the parts you expect.

The constant (and not unpleasant) chain of surprises manages to slightly obscure the climax of the book. You can look to the “Brimstone” or the “Treason” for the finale. There is a cinematic battle scene towards the end of the book but blink and you’ll miss it. That’ll be the brimstone. There’s plenty of treason but it works best if it involves characters you care about betraying characters you care about. You certainly do come to root for a few of characters and a sure sign of an engaging book.

The meat of the plot centres around four characters. We have Anja the apprentice mage and heroine of the story. There’s Damian the greatest wizard of all the Empire and creator of the perfect hair spell (infamous in certain circles), Lady Sarina of the impressive bodice and Maurice the second greatest mage in the Empire. It’s the chemistry between these four, the squabbling and the occasional harmony that brings out the best in the book. At times the term ‘anti-hero’ seems more appropriate than ‘hero’ for any or all of them but, again, this is all part of the attraction. If you demand flawless fantasy characters for your escapism then the realism here might not be to your taste.

I did mention twenty foot tall demons with impressively large tackle. You noticed? Unicorns waggle their horns lewdly. Blondes in tight fitting leather suits find themselves tied to their male companions. Brimstone and Treason is a little at saucy at times, but I’ve already highlighted the best, it’s saucy in the good way. This is a book you can lend to friends.

Brimstone and Treason is a welcome diversion. It’s substantial enough to be much more than a throw away offering but it’s not the meal of a full novel – this is the way of the novella. It’s written to suit, characters are built up succulently through quick but focused scenes and the plot is delivered in bite sized sections. You’ll enjoy the first half more than the last but you won’t be disappointed by the final chunk of conclusion.

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