Review: The Lascar’s Dagger by Glenda Larke

Orbit, 2013
ISBN 978-0-356-50272-4

Glenda Larke’s years spent as an Australian living in Malaysia are often reflected in her fantasy fiction through the use of non-stereotypical settings and postcolonial themes. Her world-building is complex, distinctive and believable, while her characters’ strengths and (intentional) flaws are both admirable and pleasingly infuriating. The Lascar’s Dagger, Book One of The Forsaken Lands Trilogy continues that tradition and is easily one of Larke’s best.

Saker is a priest, scholar and spy. Handsome and quick thinking, he is courageous and driven by a strong sense of morality which, in matters of the heart, lead him along paths that a hard-hearted or perhaps wiser man would leave untrodden. His story begins with a routine spying mission which is almost ruined when he is attacked by a barefooted sailor – a Lascar from the mostly unexplored islands on the opposite side of the world. When the Lascar disappears into a nearby canal, Saker unwittingly gains possession of his dagger.

Looking over his shoulder, Saker saw the unharmed sailor one last time through the opening of the shutter. He was outside the warehouse, hanging on to a beam of the overhang. He made some sort of hand gesture just before he swung up on to the top of the roof, as agile as a squirrel.

Saker thought it was a wave of farewell, but then he saw the flash of a dagger blade flying through the air.

Not at any of the men below, but at him.

Impossibly, it spiralled through the air, its point always facing his way. It whirred noisily as it came, and the merchants below swivelled to follow its passage. Saker hurtled himself upwards on to the roof.

Something tugged at his trousers and scraped his leg. Grabbing up the rope and the coat he’d left there, he set off at a run up to the ridge of the warehouse roof.

He heard doors crash open below, followed by shouts in the streets. He didn’t stop. He was already on the roof of the neighbouring warehouse when he heard the second pistol shot, followed almost immediately by the bang of an arquebus.

He didn’t look back, but he did look down.

The wavy dagger was firmly stuck through his trousers below the knee, and his leg was stinging.

Larke_LascarsDagger_TP-300x450Saker soon learns that the dagger has a will of its own and if he does not discover its purpose, his knack for attracting trouble may well destroy him.

What follows is an entertaining and thoughtful tale of danger and discovery as Saker is sent to the royal court of Ardrone ostensibly as a spiritual advisor, but in reality as a spy. Immediately he finds himself embroiled in plots and counterplots as Lady Mathilda, a princess who longs to be king, proves herself to be both intelligent and conniving.

At the same time, Saker is blinded to the true nature of Mathilda’s dowdy yet outspoken handmaid, Sorrel Redwing. A woman with a tragic past and hidden magic, Sorrel outwardly disdains him. When the two interact, sparks fly. Saker cannot tell if she is his friend or enemy.

As always with Larke’s fiction, the setting is not simply a backdrop, but as much a player as the characters themselves. The Kingdom of Ardrone and the Regality of Lowmeer are both patriarchal societies separated not only by borders but also by their differing interpretations of religion, their divergent cultures and their leaders’ lust for power. In both regions, religion is linked to magic, while magic is an integral aspect of religion. Both are easily corrupted to support the needs of those who rule.

As a result, the novel’s conflicts and outcomes are logical developments inside the rich social tapestry woven around them. At the same time they are full of surprises that add up to a book that is difficult to put down.

Although I’d like to discuss the Lascar’s place and the post-colonial themes in this novel, I cannot do so without giving too much away. Therefore I will deal with them in my review of Book Two: The Dagger’s Path, which is due out in January 2015.

Story to be Reprinted in Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2013


My story, “The Silence of Clockwork”, edited by Elizabeth Fitzgerald and originally published in the 2013 Conflux Convention Programme, has been picked up by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene for The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror Volume 4: 2013 which will be released in late November.

This is the first time I’ve had a story in one of these and I’m especially chuffed as this story is written in the same world as my steampunk fantasy novel, Heart Fire, and is told from the point of view of one of the major characters, a centuries-old shapeshifter known as Ruk. One of the problems I had when writing this story was to not give in to overloading it with backstory, while at the same time telling enough of Ruk’s past to make his actions feel logical.

It’s certainly an honour to be part of this impressive table of contents:

Lee Battersby, “Disciple of the Torrent”, Tales of Australia: Great Southern Land
• Deborah Biancotti, “All the Lost Ones”, Exotic Gothic 5 Vol I
• Trudi Canavan, “Camp Follower”, Fearsome Journeys
• Robert G. Cook, “Glasskin”, Review of Australian Fiction Vol 5 #6
• Rowena Cory Daniells, “The Ways of the Wyrding Women”, One Small Step
• Terry Dowling, “The Sleepover”, Exotic Gothic 5 Vol II
• Thoraiya Dyer, “After Hours”, Asymmetry
• Marion Halligan, “A Castle in Toorak”, Griffith Review #42
• Dmetri Kakmi, “The Boy by the Gate”, The New Gothic
• David Kernot, “Harry’s Dead Poodle”, Cover of Darkness Magazine
• Margo Lanagan, “Black Swan Event”, Griffith Review #42
• S.G. Larner, “Poppies”, Aurealis #65
• Martin Livings, “La Mort d’un Roturer”, This is How You Die
• Kirstyn McDermott, “Caution: Contains Small Parts”, Caution: Contains Small Parts
• Claire McKenna, “The Ninety Two”, Next
• C.S. McMullen, “The Nest”, Nightmare Magazine
• Juliet Marillier, “By Bone-Light “, Prickle Moon
• David Thomas Moore, “Old Souls”, The Book of the Dead
• Faith Mudge, “The Oblivion Box”, Dreaming of Djinn
• Ryan O’Neill, “Sticks and Stones”, The Great Unknown
• Angela Rega, “Almost Beautiful”, Next
• Tansy Rayner Roberts, “The Raven and Her Victory”, Where Thy Dark Eye Glances: Queering Edgar Allan Poe
• Nicky Rowlands, “On the Wall”, Next
Carol Ryles, “The Silence of Clockwork”, Conflux 9 Convention Programme
• Angela Slatter, “Flight”, Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales
• Anna Tambour, “Bowfin Island”, Caledonia Dreamin’
• Kaaron Warren, “Born and Bread”, Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales
• Janeen Webb, “Hell is Where the Heart is”, Next