The boy with the porcelain blade / Dev Patrick
The boy with the porcelain blade is a book that wears its influences proudly: Gormenghast, Dune, We have always lived in the castle, etc. The author and the blurb both claim inspiration from Scott Lynch but I don’t really see it.
Anyways, it’s a sf novel (whether it is better classified as “science fiction” or “fantasy” is ambiguous).
Brief plot summary
The Orfani are a group of disfigured children who live a fairly comfortable life under the king’s protection. Inhabiting a spider-infested castle, the Orfani are sponsored by the various Houses and overseen by the mysterious Majordomo. Life for the Orfani is a series of plots and counterplots as they try to do away with each other, but the reasons why are unclear. A fencing master with a grudge against Lucien, one of the elder Orfani, will soon set into motion a series of events that will reveal the secrets of the Orfani, the never-seen king, and the kingdom itself.
So how is it?
It’s pretty good. It took me a while to get into though, as I was initially expecting something quite different from what I got, and the structure is such that vital information about the characters’ motivations is not revealed until very close to the end.
The boy with the porcelain blade is structured similarly to The dispossessed. Chapters alternate between the “present” of the book and the protagonist’s past. What this means is that the entire plot remains fairly obtuse until the very end, when the “flashback” chapters start to reveal Lucien’s discoveries that cause him to behave the way he does in the “present” chapters. This means that it’s a book that you have to take on faith and trust that the things that don’t make sense now will be explained eventually. Lucien starts out seeming like a spoiled brat throwing a tantrum, which was one of the reasons this book took me far longer to finish than it would normally have. In the end though it felt worth the read.
As I said, I was initially expecting something very different – largely because the book cover and the acknowledgments referenced Scott Lynch three times. But there’s none of Lynch’s sense of humor here, none of the playfulness. So I had some trouble initially trying to figure out the funny parts. Once I realized that a far, far better comparison would be Gene Wolfe’s Book of the new sun. Reading it with that perspective I started to enjoy it much more.
Taken as a whole, I really do think it was a good book. It’s not exactly a light adventure story though. It’s more of a “literary” work. Frank Herbert and Gene Wolfe are the closest comparisons I can find.
This book was published only recently, but I’ve recommended it a few times already. So far nobody has been able to find a copy (I guess I was just lucky that my public library had it) so I can’t say for sure how successful those recommendations were.
Still, it’s a good recommendation for fans of Herbert and Wolfe. I’m not sure I’d recommend it to anyone who wasn’t explicitly a fan of one of those books. It’s “literary” enough that people looking for “fun” reading will probably be disappointed. There’s also some body horror here, but it’s not too extreme and it shouldn’t be off-putting for anyone who has the stomach for Book of the new sun.