“The Sons of Brabant,” Book 1 of the Devil’s Bible Series by Michael Nolan

“The Sons of Brabant” is a strange meld of two different genres of book. The heroes and the villain part company in the first chapter and never meet again (at least in this issue of the serial). Thus I am forced to write a split-personality review in response.

The Heroes:

The story of the heroes is close-up historical fiction: the tale of a small band of mercenaries fighting their way through the melee of wars that ravaged late Renaissance Europe. This is a story of lovingly crafted characters, simple conflicts and carefully planned and beautifully described battle scenes. Except for a rather slithery point of view, this element of the book is well-written, appealing and exciting. I’d give it five stars any day.

The Villain:

The bad guy’s half of the tale is the wider picture, an epic of armies and plagues sweeping across early 17th century Europe, manipulated by a cabal of super-villains rich and powerful enough to warm the heart of the most ardent conspiracy theorist.

But the writing is more problematic. There is a melodromatic super-richness and super-evil motivation that requires a definite fantasy-style suspension of disbelief for the reader to swallow. It is unfortunate that this storyline runs so close to real-time history, because it deals with political entities and events that really existed, which do not blend well with the fantastical element of the plot. This is not helped by rather hasty historical research. For example, the author mentions the “Faubourg district” of Paris. “Faubourg” is the French word for “district.” The Siege of Leuven in 1635 is mentioned in some detail, but to no seeming purpose.

The problem with writing Fantasy that uses a historical setting is that sooner or later you run into the clash between fiction and non-fiction, and any errors in melding the two can result in an uncomfortable mixed-emotion effect. We are dealing with neither fish nor fowl, and we don’t know how to react.

And then there is a supernatural element, which is set up very carefully in this issue, and then has absolutely no effect on anything. Preparation for something in future issues, I assume. We seem to be preparing a lot of elements for future issues, including any kind of satisfactory ending to the present story.

This book is a valiant attempt to carry off a sweeping combination of historical and fantastic novel elements that doesn’t quite succeed. Perhaps following issues will tie it all together.

Hopefully I will some day be able to recommend this series to fans of the Da Vinci Code and Historical Fiction, as well as to regular Epic Fantasy readers. At the moment, the jury is still out.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)


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