The Moon King, by Neil Williamson, NewCon Press, RRP£12.99, 338 pages
Neil Williamson’s splendidly unclassifiable debut opens with engineer Anton Dunn waking up with a crashing hangover to find that he is being treated as the Lunane, the mysteriously long-lived ruler of Glassholm. This island city is a bipolar place where the lusts and tempers of the populace wax and wane with the moon.
With a lunar eclipse approaching, Glassholm is becoming febrile, and Dunn is set the seemingly impossible task of mending the extraordinarily arcane machine created by the city’s founders that links island and moon. Meanwhile, John Mortlock, an embittered policeman with a dark past, has a series of gruesome murders to investigate, and Lottie Blake, a glass artist, finds her destiny immutably tied to that of her home town.
The Moon King belongs in the tradition of Mervyn Peake as one of those fantasy works set in a world that’s both contemporary and retro. It’s an elegant, eloquent inquiry into the relationship between humankind and nature and the balance between the masculine and the feminine.
Talus and the Frozen King, by Graham Edwards, Solaris, RRP£7.99, 282 pages
The Bronze Age. On the remote, snowbound island of Creyak, a king has been murdered. His six sons are all potential suspects, as is the local shaman. A boat from the neighbouring, rival island of Sleeth arrives suspiciously soon after the killing, carrying more than just a delegation of dignitaries. The stage is set for war, unless someone can get to the bottom of the mystery.
Luckily, two other visitors have turned up on Creyak. They are Talus, a grizzled, well-travelled bard, and his younger companion Bran, who is fleeing from tragedy and loss. Talus loves nothing more than storytelling and to him a puzzle is simply another kind of story, one that he takes great intellectual pleasure in unravelling.
Edwards’ novel is a wonderful mash-up of genres, fusing a proper, well-plotted detective yarn with prehistoric blood and thunder pulp fiction action. Talus, who combines the cerebral prowess of Sherlock Holmes with the physicality of Conan the Barbarian, is a strong, well-rounded character who could easily support a long-running series of adventures.