THE GRAND DESIGN
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Following the death of the Emperor Arkus of Nar, the lands he ruled are plunged into a civil war as merciless war chiefs who trained under his tyranny jockey for positions of power in his kingdom. The city of Nar itself has been taken over by the religious fanatic Bishop Herrith, whose generals are pledged to expunge all signs of the Black Renaissance which Arkus had brought to Nar. The Grand Design examines the world as men attempt to turn the chaos following Arkus's death to their own advantageous order.
While Marco retains much of the military feel of the first book in the series, The Jackal of Nar, The Grand Design focuses more on the Byzantine politics and plots which lie behind Biagio, Herrith and Vantran's various attempts to gain revenge and/or power. As with the first novel in the series, Marco avoids falling into the trap of assuming that individuals who share a common adversary will join forces against the common enemy, putting aside their own differences.
Marco is able to reveal more of his world in The Grand Design than he was in The Jackal of Nar. The structure of Herrith's church (similar to the medieval Catholic Church) becomes more evident and the various ducal alliances can be seen as part of a larger tapestry than was shown in The Jackal of Nar. While Marco provided a complex world in the first novel, he is able to reveal more of it, in more detail, in the second book. Presumably, this trend will continue in future books to show a well-thought out and varied culture.
One of the more interesting characters in The Grand Design is Bishop Herrith, who supplanted Emperor Arkus following the emperor's death in The Jackal of Nar. Although portrayed as an amoral man by his enemies, when Marco uses Herrith as a viewpoint character, it is clear that the bishop has a deep and abiding religious faith and truly believes he is carrying out the will of his deity even if he doesn't always like what he is doing. This is a nice change of pace from much fantasy in which religious characters are portrayed as charletans or zealots.
Marco's second novel not only lives up to the promise he demonstrated in his debut, but surpasses the first book by adding more depth to both his world and his characters. In stores which are already overstocked with thick fantasy series, Marco has the potential to rise above the rest of the pack if his publisher manages to promote his work effectively.
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