by Martin Scott
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
To say that Thraxas is the most obscure novel to win the World Fantasy Award would be to impugn the ability of that award to go to obscure novels, many of which are not published in the traditional “fantasy” marketing niche. Thraxas’s obscurity arises merely from its British publication. Eventually, especially given its recent award, the novel will be published by an American publisher and become better known and available in the US.
Thraxas is a down-on-his-luck detective, a fantasy world Sam Spade, living in a magical world which is refreshingly cliché in its trappings, which include a world populated by conflicting kingdoms of humans, elves and orcs. The city of Turai has everything one has come to expect in a Medieval fantasy setting. Thraxas is a sorcerer-of-little-power who has turned to private investigations. Based out of the Avenging Axe tavern, he is befriended by a quarter-orc, quarter-elf, half-human warrior and a variety of other misfits. One of the things that sets Thraxas apart from so many other similar fantasy characters is his weight. Thraxas tends towards the Nero-Wolfian, although he has enough energy to do his own leg-work.
In his initial outing, Thraxas finds himself handling several cases and trying to juggle members of the royal family, orcish and elvish diplomats, rival street gangs, the assassins' guild and the all-pervasive Church in his efforts to discover who stole the Red Elvish Cloth, killed the king's new dragon, framed him for the murder of the Niojian ambassador, and is moving a huge shipment of the drug dwa into Turai. As if this wasn't enough excitement for one novel, Thraxas must also deal with the elections for the Consul of Turai.
Scott, a pseudonym for veteran author Martin Millar, handles the various twists and turns of Thraxas's adventures without dropping any of the balls he throws into the air. Furthermore, he clearly lays the groundwork for future adventures of his investigator, some of which have already been published. In any event, Scott has clearly created a world which will be able to host an open-ended number of adventures of Thraxas and his compatriots, or other characters should he so desire.While certainly light-hearted in nature and style, Thraxas is by no means a humorous fantasy novel in the vein of Terry Pratchett or Tom Holt. In fact, if a comparison were to be made, it is probably closest to Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos in both form and tone. The dangers Thraxas and his companions face are real, and, while there is an occasional humorous comment, the humor never overtakes the detective-style plot. At the same, time, Turai and its surroundings are described, but somehow manage to avoid the sense of the fantastic.
Thraxas provides much of the background information the reader needs in the form of expository passages. Even some of the action which takes place during the course of Thraxas's investigations are related afterwards rather than being shown to the reader as they happen. Nevertheless, Scott manages to convey this information in in interesting manner which maintains the reader's interest.
With luck, Scott will sell reprint rights the all of the existing Thraxas novels in the United States and he will gain a larger circle of readers. For those who enjoy the Taltos novels of Steven Brust, Thraxas will provide another source of adventure while waiting for Brust to publish the remainder of his novels in the series.