The Assassin of Gleam is the first in a series of fantasy novels for young adults. Having read what was probably an unhealthy amount of fantasy when I was a young, I was pleased to see a New Zealand writer making strides into this genre.
Gleam is a fiefdom oppressed by its ruler the Markgrave Twyll. The Markgrave is disturbed when a prophecy promises a maiden will come and overturn his tyranny, bringing about a new era of hope to the city. We enter Gleam with Tobias, an ambitious student, Johanna, his sweet sister and their kind Uncle Hugh. Almost immediately Tobias’ arrogance sets into play a series of events that place him in the hands of the Brotherhood and his family in increasing danger.
The most enjoyable aspect of this book is the way Norcliffe has written the main characters as real people. They didn’t have any special magical talents to fight off the bad guys, and were gullible and fallible. Some fantasy gives every character special powers of magic or persuasion so this was a very different read.
Fantasy can also focus unnecessarily on action without paying attention to language. The Assassin of Gleam avoids this as Norcliffe describes his world and characters through engaging and clever writing. Although the beginning of the boo was slow, possibly a symptom of being the first in a series, by the end the plot and characters had started to take off.
If you like the idea of magic, evil tyrants, jesters, musicians and unsuspecting heroines, then this could be the book for you. I expect the second book in the series.