The Devil in the Dust

by Chaz Brenchley

Cover image

Series: Outremer #1
Publisher: Ace
Copyright: 1997
Printing: May 2003
ISBN: 0-441-01071-7
Format: Mass market
Pages: 272

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This is the first book of the US printing Outremer series, published in the UK in three books and in the US (oddly and annoyingly) in six books, some of which share titles with the UK editions. It's a fantasy epic borrowing heavily from the Crusades, opening in the intimidating castle of the Roq de Rançon, based on the castle of Krak des Chevaliers in modern-day Syria.

Unfortunately, it also suffers from being the first book of a long series, and more from being half of the book as originally published. The main characters are set up, a beginning is made at introducing the world and its rules, and several hints are dropped about what's coming up, but most of the action is superficial and one is left with the feeling that not very much has happened.

Brenchley's writing style tends towards the descriptive, trying to find good turns of phrase to build an image of the scene. Sometimes, it feels like he tries a little bit too hard, and I felt like I was wading through descriptions during the initial portion of the book. Either he got better towards the end of the book or I got used to it, but I never reached the point where I particularly liked his descriptions.

I feel about the same way about his characters. They're passable (although very immature) and rather given to dramatic reactions and acting helpless. I like the women better than the man, and towards the end of the book they started feeling a little bit less like placeholders, but I never started really caring about them.

This book feels adequate but rather generic. There's a bit of a coming of age story, there's a bit of medieval action, there's a bit of unexplained magic, there's a mysterious tower, a knight with a past and a special sword... nothing really jumps out at me as being unique. Much is assumed about the reader's understanding of the history and religion, and I'm guessing someone who knew more about the Crusades than I do would be spotting references regularly. I found it somewhat confusing, since little of that background is stated; for example, I was confused for quite a while about how far away Marron's home was from the castle. I would have appreciated more background information about why things were they way they were, at least in those places where the characters clearly know but aren't sharing in the narration.

I'm probably invested enough that I'll read the next book, but I can't say I particularly recommend this one.

Followed by Tower of the King's Daughter.

Update: There is a good web site about Outremer that contains quite a bit of background information about the Crusades and the historical basis of the series that I only discovered some time after I read this book. I think I would have appreciated it more if I'd read the background material at the time.

Rating: 5 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-03-20

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21