Talus and the Frozen King is a story about the wandering bard Talus and his (semi) reluctant partner Bran. They are traveling across their world north to the lights that crash in the night sky, heralding a place where lost spirits might be found.
But before they get there, there are mysteries to be solved.
The book opens with Bran and Talus overlooking an island which happens to be home of the Creyak people. Shouts and wails can be heard and the two respond by going down to see what’s going on. To Talus’ piqued interest and Bran’s consternation, they find a dead king, frozen on his throne in a sheltered, outdoor courtyard. In the time it takes Bran to think they ought to move on, Talus claims that the death of the king is no accident, but murder.
Along with Bran, Talus then guides us through an examination of the body, the likely and unlikely suspects, the murder weapon, and possible motives. The plot thickens when a neighboring king shows up with his, let’s just say, popular daughter, who managed to string along just about all the dead king’s heirs.
As Talus gets closer and closer to the answer, the stakes are raised and Talus’ past catches up to him and even he is at risk in the final, frozen hilltop showdown.
All in all, I liked this book. The writing is clear, concise, and the plot moves forward at a satisfactory pace. I like Bran. He’s the down-to-earth counterpoint to Talus’ brilliant mind. The story is (mostly) told from Bran’s point of view and I really sympathized with his plight. The loss of a loved one, no matter what ice-age you may be in, is a terrible thing. Reading about him coming to terms with that loss added a texture to this story that I wasn’t expecting. I especially liked how the author worked in a few female characters that were not just bed warmers (which he could easily have done given the time period). Lethriel, a widow like Bran, proves to be a valuable resource to our budding detectives, and Alayin, the desirous daughter of the attacking king, is a formidable character trying to carve out a life of her own away from her father.
I also liked the stories that Talus tells the people of Creyak. Don’t quote me on this, but after one particularly confounding tale, Talus tells us that stories don’t necessarily have to make sense, they just have to touch us the right way. I completely agree with this sentiment. There are countless stories I’ve read that should have been put through the editorial process a few more times, but somehow connect in such a way that I overlook all its flaws.
Bran plays the disenchanted skeptic. So distraught after the death of his wife, he can’t even bother to pray to his god anymore. While Talus is the brilliant thinker who keeps his thoughts on the gods and the real nature of the lights they seek in the north a mystery. Are the northern lights a veil between this world and the next, or is it something entirely else? It was all left very vague in this book, making me wonder how the author will play out the notion of god or beings we can’t quite explain given our level of technology and understanding in future books set in this story world.
However, the style in which Talus and the Frozen King is written, left a sour taste. I guess, more accurately, I just didn’t like the premise of the book. A Sherlock Holmes/Watson set up (along with a counter “evil genius”) placed in the ice age just seemed…silly. I don’t see why a traveling bard would be interested in solving a mystery that had nothing to do with him and that could put his life at risk. Even if he didn’t care about his own life, why would he risk Bran’s life that way? I mean, they’re in an icy world, with few resources, and they have some place to be. Would they really stop and muck up a frozen king’s funeral when no one is asking them to do so? It just didn’t make sense. Maybe I missed the bit where Talus knew his arch-enemy would be in that village before they went down to it, but I’m pretty sure he was just as surprised as everyone else when they find out the shaman was not who he said he was.
Most mysteries I’ve read include a crucial, triggering event that makes it absolutely impossible for the main character to move forward without solving the mystery. In Talus and the Frozen King, I was not convinced that that was the case.
So, if you’re a die-hard mystery fan, that lack of plausible motivation for Talus may put you off. But if you can jump over that tall bar of disbelief, give Talus and the Frozen King a try. You just might like it.