Welcome to an alternate world where Richard the Lion-Heart did not die in the year 1199... where magic is a science and science is an art... where the great detective Lord Darcy and the sorcerer Sean O'Lochlainn combine occult skills and brilliant deductions to bring criminals to the King's Justice and thwart those who plot against the Realm. Welcome to a world where murder may be committed by magic most foul, but crime still does not pay - as long as Lord Darcy is on the case.
First reviewed: May 20091
This is the second time I’ve read this collection (of everything LD-related written by RG), and I still don’t know much about the history behind it. I keep meaning to bone up on Richard the Lion-Heart and what happened after him– I think it’d make the alternate history part of the Lord Darcy stories more fun, y’know? Though, really, the focus on the stories is more on the mystery/fantasy part than on the alternate history, so maybe it doesn’t really matter much.
The worldbuilding is actually very light, and there are whole chunks of places/peoples that’re ignored. For instance, Australia and all of Asia is never mentioned (kind of weird considering Australia’s history with England in particular). Africa’s mentioned maybe two times, and even North America/South America only show up as background stuff (and one secondary character’s from Mexico). All that means the focus remains, as intended, on the mysteries, but as someone who LOVES worldbuilding it’s kind of annoying.
Let’s talk about the mysteries: they’re very satisfying with their complexity and interesting-ness, though they tend to do that thing where the detective’s figured out the answer within two pages and then he spends the rest of the time gathering evidence while the reader is wondering wtf is going on. Irritating? Yes, but while Darcy’s figuring out how to catch the criminal we get to learn more about the secondary characters, the world they live in, and fun stuff like that.
Oh! That reminds me: these stories aren’t historical fiction! I know, right, the cover– but it’s TOTALLY NOT Victorian/Edwardian/whathaveyou!2 They’re actually supposed to be set during the year they were written: the 1960s, in other words. The reason the characters are stuck in old-fashioned clothing and manners and behavior is, I think, because magic sucked all the innovation out of that world. Everyone’s obsessed with magic, and with magical theory, and so on, and so ever since magic usage became widespread 300(?) or so years before, technology has suffered.
For example! In one story, Darcy’s got a flashlight. Only to him, it’s a super-secret, super-important piece of equipment that very few people have and basically it’s equivalent to what a laptop would be if you brought it back to the 1980s.
I’d say also that religion (and religious freedom) has suffered in the Lord Darcy world. Literally every character (who is given any sort of dialogue) is Catholic3, so Catholic that it’s sort of like reading a historical fiction book set in medieval times. And, actually, I think that the massive Catholicism has held back technological/societal development, too. Everything’s still very colonial4,the British king is still an absolute ruler, and so on.
That’s all background stuff, of course, but that’s the stuff that interested me the most, really. The mysteries were, as I said, pretty darned good, though after a while they DID start to run along the same lines all the time. Someone dies, Lord Darcy’s called in, everyone thinks the death happened by magical means, Lord Darcy proves otherwise, and worldbuilding/non-mystery stuff gets tucked in between the major acts.
Sooooo, in conclusion: loads of interesting worldbuilding/background stuff that doesn’t get a whole lot of airtime, good (but kind of irritating) mysteries, and decent enough characters5 to carry the whole thing off. If you like mysteries with unique settings in a genre that doesn’t seem to get them much6, then you’d like this book. If you’re looking for an epic fantasy sort of thing then you might want to look elsewhere, as you’d no doubt be disappointed by the lack of detail.
Read: July 11-14, 2012 (reread)
There is a whole other aspect to these stories that I didn’t cover: the many and varied allusions to other mystery books! For example, the novel included in this collected is called “Too Many Magicians” and it’s got two suspiciously familiar characters in it.
There’s more Lord Darcy stuff written by Michael Kurland, which I haven’t read yet but plan on doing so eventually.
If you want to read some of Randall Garrett’s other stories, there are quite a few listed on Project Gutenburg.
- notice I rated it higher back then? This time around I wasn’t as forgiving of the flaws, I suppose. ↩
- nor is it as action-y and he also isn’t a superhero or Jack the Ripper. ↩
- there are some background Jewish people, and I think that the Native Americans (who are still fighting against British invaders, btw) escaped conversion. ↩
- although interestingly enough, though the “natives” have been converted to Catholocism, they haven’t been as subjugated as you’d think. One of the more important secondary characters is Mexican nobility, and he’s treated just as you’d expect Victorian-ish British people to treat nobility. Possibly that’s because of the magical element, though– the Maya/Aztecs in Lord Darcy had magic of their own, so maybe that helped with the equalization? ↩
- I know I didn’t talk about that but they ARE decent enough (as in interesting) characters for being such big prudes. ↩
- not counting paranormals, here. ↩