The Boy with the Porcelain Blade, by Den Patrick

Publisher: Gollancz
Publication date: March 20th 2014
Pages: 336
ISBN: 057513383X 


An ornate yet dark fantasy, with echoes of Mervyn Peake, Robin Hobb and Jon Courtenay Grimwood. An original and beautifully imagined world, populated by unforgettable characters.

Lucien de Fontein has grown up different. One of the mysterious and misshapen Orfano who appear around the Kingdom of Landfall, he is a talented fighter yet constantly lonely, tormented by his deformity, and well aware that he is a mere pawn in a political game. Ruled by an insane King and the venomous Majordomo, it is a world where corruption and decay are deeply rooted - but to a degree Lucien never dreams possible when he first discovers the plight of the 'insane' women kept in the haunting Sanatoria.

Told in a continuous narrative interspersed with flashbacks we see Lucien grow up under the care of his tutors. We watch him forced through rigorous Testings, and fall in love, set against his yearning to discover where he comes from, and how his fate is tied to that of every one of the deformed Orfano in the Kingdom, and of the eerie Sanatoria itself.


I received a copy of this book through Goodreads for an honest review.

When Lucien turns seventeen, the time comes for his last test. Although he was not told what it would entail, he never expected to be told to fight three men to the death. One of which, a friend. With reluctance, he fights, but when he enrages Superiore Giancarlo di Fontein, not only does he shatter his lifelong dream of joining House Fontein, but he is forced to flee, and the world is set aflame.

Lucien's story is told through the narration of both Lucien's past and present, with each chapter of the past setting up whatever will happen in the present, a clever way to further explain the plot, the characters' motivations, and the world itself. However, there were times when the past chapters felt unnecessary and serving the purpose of keeping the balance between each type of chapter.

Perhaps this is why the mood of the book in a whole shifted so many times. It began with a fantastic Locke Lamora vibe, dwindled to a gothic ambience, slipped to a fantasy feeling, and turned into a science fiction atmosphere. While by themselves, the genres are awe inspiring, in The Boy with the Porcelain Blade, it just felt like Patrick did not know which way to turn and decided to make a salad without mixing up the ingredients properly, and then decided to say the book had a heavy political backdrop when this is rarely played out. This is a debut novel, though, so I wouldn't expect Patrick to repeat this in future books. If he does, there is still much to be applauded.

One of which is the deliciously morbid worldbuilding and the characters. The Orfano, childreen and teenagers who die before reaching adulthood, are all misshapen in... curious ways. Lucien was born without ears, Golia has poisonous spines in his arms, Dino cries tears of blood, and Anea... I'll let you find out about her deformity. All these children are orphans, they all know the likelihood they'll live long is small, and they are all willing to fight to survive. The explanation for them being so was one I did not expect. As this is a spoiler free review, let me just say that it's not a path I had seen taken in books of this genre, and it works splendidly.

The Boy with the Porcelain Blade is the first book in a promising series, but am I going to pick up the second? With so many books out there calling for my attention, the answer might be a no. Although the dark tones were superb and little of the world has been explored, the story feels wrapped up to me. I might change my mind if the synopsis intrigues me enough, though, so we'll see. Regardless, Den Patrick is certainly an author to keep an eye on. I doubt this is the best he can and will give. 

The book in a quote

""You need to stop being clever."
"Stop? I'm not sure I ever started.""