Odalisque: Book One of the Percheron Saga
it never be said that Fiona McIntosh is not daring. Having
established herself quite firmly with the solid work of the
Quickening Trilogy, involving readers in more
tried-and-true fantasy climes with castles and familiar settings,
this time she takes a gamble. Rather than hold steady and go
through the motions, she plots a new course and opens up an array
of excitement and intrigue in Percheron, her fantastic take on a
culture and community reminiscent of Constantinople.
Lazar, when we meet him, is a slave, brought for trade to the city.
The law of the Zar dictates that a slave may fight for his freedom
against a professional soldier. Zar Joreb is witness to the fight,
amazed that this slave could best a dozen men, refusing to kill
them as is customary. Joreb makes Lazar his Spur, protector of the
Zar and of the city, from both without and within.
When Joreb dies, one of his many wives, Herezah, seeks to place her
son, Boaz, upon the throne. To do so, she must eliminate the other
children, for they could be potential assassins and enemies of the
Zar. Her intentions are purely personal, seeking the power that
comes with being the mother of the Zar and thus enabling her to
bend the will of the world to her whims.
Lazar does not trust her and is bound to Boaz through more than
just title. Boaz, only 15, trusts and respects Lazar. His only
other friend is the mysterious and troublesome jester, a twisted
dwarf by the name of Pez. They fear for the young Zar because those
who would seek him the most harm are actually the ones who are the
closest to him, and Lazar may not be capable of protecting him from
all angles. It is more worrisome when Herezah sends Lazar away to
seek odalisques for the new Zar, separating the young man from his
protector and leaving only the mad dwarf to aid him.
Yet even more powerful machinations are at play, and powers greater
than could have been imagined begin to awaken and put their pawns
into play. All of Percheron hangs in the balance.
As in her previous works, McIntosh has a deft way with a story; she
rushes you along, never slowing for you to become bored but never
too fast for you to struggle to keep up. The details of the various
plots and schemes web across one another, and intensity builds
until the very end when you are left waiting for the follow-up
title that will answer your questions and no doubt open up greater
The characters in ODALISQUE are exquisite and interesting. The
beauty of them is their mystery, for they all seem to hold secrets
that we never really know up front. It is as if you are meeting
them and have to learn about them over time. Lazar is nearly
superhuman in his warrior abilities, but something lies within him
that needs to be learned. Pez, for all of his peculiarities, is far
more than he appears. In fact, he may be more than even he
realizes. Herezah and her minions are simply foul individuals but
are so nicely drawn that they have their own allure.
Percheron itself is wonderful. With McIntosh's descriptions of the
city and its surroundings, you get a deep sense of love that the
author felt for the project. It is vibrant and beautiful, savage
and deadly --- a backdrop not often utilized in the fantasy world.
In this case it is a welcome and well-presented change of
Fantasy fans should be so lucky as to find a larger palette of
worlds to discover --- and luckier still if they were as
astonishingly well-written as this. It is refreshing to see an
author challenge herself and spread out into a new realm so vastly
different, alluring and seductive as to capture the imagination
instantly. Yes, Fiona McIntosh took a gamble.
It paid off very, very well.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on January 13, 2011