by TM Moore, historical/fantasy (2007)
Ikthalion Press, $12.95, ISBN N/A
Despite being the fifth book in TM Moore's Children Of The Dragon series, The Queen's Marksman can actually stand alone very well. I should know - this is the first book in the series that I've read and I am certainly not lost, heh.
Robert St John, the son of the Earl of Huntingdon, was 20 when he enlisted to serve in the army abroad. The two years since he left England however changed him as he experienced various unhappy incidents ranging from being fed on by a vampire to watching the death of his beloved who willingly took a bullet that was meant for him. It is a darker and more cynical Captain Robert St John that graces the ballrooms of London two years later. The poor dear is not really human anymore thanks to the bloodsucking Russian envoy Karel Arkelin. Robert eventually finds love again and tries to lead a normal life while hiding his vampire nature from others, including his parents, but alas, a certain Count Drakulya as well as some serial killer named Jack the Ripper are going to make it impossible for Robert to live the life he wanted.
While The Queen's Marksman is certainly a readable book, I find it a hard one to get into due to the way Ms Moore structures her story. For a long time I'm not sure where the story is going. The narration is clean, but at the same time it lacks depth. The lack of depth is due to the tendency of Ms Moore to give superficial treatment to the various important incidents in Robert's life. I am rarely given satisfactory insight into what Robert is thinking or feeling in a particular moment, such as when he falls in love or when his parents couldn't accept him for being a vampire. These are significant events. A little more detailed look into Robert's head will certainly help in making him come off as a more realistic character that I can root for.
The story only seems to find its footing when Robert begins actively going against Jack the Ripper and Count Drakulya in the last third or so. Finally, the story begins to come alive here as the pace tightens and there are signs of a build-up towards a climatic denouement. While I have a much better time reading this later part of the story, I also wish that the author has tightened the pace more in the earlier part of the story so that the entire story is consistently readable.
It is no doubt presumptuous of me to say this since The Queen's Marksman is TM Moore's work rather than mine, but I wonder whether this story would have been stronger if the author has removed the earlier parts of the story where Robert was in Afghanistan and begun the story with Robert going after Drakulya and Jack the Ripper. Robert's life in Afghanistan can be integrated into the story either as flashbacks or via inferences from conversations between Robert and various secondary characters. That way, the story won't feel so much like some cursory blow-by-blow diary-style account of Robert's life but rather more like a historical urban fantasy-style story of a haunted protagonist who takes down spooks while dealing with his own dark nature. After all, the strongest part of this story is when Robert is actively going after the bad guys, so it makes sense to me that Ms Moore should concentrate on that instead of a "Robert St John, this is your life" kind of meandering narrative.
At any rate, I think there is some promise to the hero, especially if Ms Moore intends to make Robert St John the lead in a series of his own - considering how big urban fantasy is at the moment, this may be a good idea - but The Queen's Marksman could use some tighter pacing and a more compelling structure to the storyline. I feel that it meanders around too much and offers too little insight into what makes the hero tick to be a memorable read.
If you're interested, this book is also available in ebook format for $5.00 as well as trade paperback format for $12.95. Head over to http://stores.lulu.com/tmmoore for more details.
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