Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Book Review: Gilded Latin Bones by Glen Cook

Gilded Latten Bones is the 13th book in Glen Cook's Garrett, P.I. fantasy/detective series. Like all Garrett books, Gilded Latten Bones' primary plot stands alone, but I very strongly recommend reading the previous Garrett books before reading this one; the story is enjoyable on its own, but there's a lot about the book that is more effective if you've spent time with Garrett and company before.

As the story begins, Garrett has finally started to settle down. He and his longtime on-again off-again girlfriend Tinnie Tate are engaged, and Garrett has left his uncertain and often dangerous life  as private investigator for secure employment in his home city of TunFaire, capital of the kingdom of Karenta, as a security specialist for the wealthy Tate family's thriving manufacturing empire. This new-found peace is shattered by the late-night arrival of several armed thugs who had been hired by an unknown party to abduct Tinnie, followed by the news that Garrett's long-time friend Morley Dotes, elven assassin and underworld figure turned mostly-legitimate entrepreneur, is comatose after being brutally attacked and left for dead in a late-night ambush on the streets of TunFaire. Despite Tinnie's disapproval, protests, and volcanic temper, along with Garrett's own desire to leave the danger and economic insecurity of his old career as a private eye behind him, he now delves back into TunFaire' s criminal underworld to find out who is responsible for the attacks on his fiancĂ©e and his best friend- and whether or not they're related.

TunFaire has settled down, too. Karenta's decades' long war with its rival Venegeta, a devastating conflict over silver mines (fuel for the magic of the sorcerer-aristocrats who rule Karenta) that consumed whole generations of young men, is over. The omnipresent racial tensions that threatened to boil over into large-scale violence with the war's end, when thousands of newly unemployed conscript soldiers were thrust into a civilian society where many trades were dominated by nonhumans after decades of economic adjustment to the lengthy and often permanent absences of virtually all of its young human men, have cooled a bit. The establishment of a more professional and less corrupt police force by Deal Relway, the recently appointed commander of the city watch, has brought an end to much of the overt criminality that plagued the city and created an era of (comparative) law and order.

To resolve the mystery, he'll have to seek out the aid of his old ally the Dead Man, the 500-year old corpse of a member of a powerful nonhuman race called the Loghyr whose original occupant hasn't departed yet, and some other acquaintances from his less reputable past. His investigation will required him to face a cabal of corpse-stealing sorcerers and their grotesque creations, mysterious political interference with his investigation, corruption at high levels of TunFaire society, and, hardest of all to confront, the knowledge that his duty to his old friend may cost him the love of his life.

I greatly enjoyed Golden Latten Bones and think it's an excellent addition to the Garrett series. As always, Garrett's first-person narration and jaded sense of humor is highly entertaining and is a huge part of what makes the story so enjoyable. I liked the central mystery, though to a great extent it's a backdrop- this book is, probably more than any other entry in the series, about Garrett rather than the case he's working on. The book is somewhat more sedentary than usual, with Garrett doing less of the legwork for the case himself- his circle of allies, sources, and friends has grown greatly since the beginning of the series, and that comes into play here. The story remains interesting, however, and there are some nice action sequences as well.

The book is more character-focused than its predecessors, and the book has a particular focus on how Garrett and the people in his life have grown and changed- or how they haven't- since we first met them. Barrett is noticeably off his game when he first begins investigating after spending over a year in his less demanding job working for the Tate family, and begins to wonder if he's no longer cut out for the demands of his old career and lifestyle. When he first moves back into his old residence- which his assistant Pular Singe and long-time housekeeper Dean have continued to use in his absence- so that he can keep an eye on the wounded Morley, he's startled by just how much frailer the elderly Dean has become. Singe, meanwhile, has grown remarkably since first meeting Garrett. A member of a despised race called ratpeople, an unnatural hybrid species created a few centuries ago in some sorcerer's bizarre experiments, she has gone from living in desperate poverty under the yoke of her thuggish elder brother and working as a tracker due to her preternaturally sensitive sense of smell to working as the manager of Garrett's office and financial affairs, has learned to read and write (an uncommon skill in general and unheard of among ratpeople), and speaks to Garrett as an equal.

I especially liked the portrayal of Tinnie Tate. Tinnie has generally been portrayed as a short-tempered, possessive, and frequently unreasonable person. And she still is, but we see her in greater and more sympathetic depth here as someone whose driving emotion is not anger or jealousy but fear, who knows that her behavior is frequently unreasonable, self-destructive, and threatens to drive away the very people she loves and is so afraid of losing, but feels like she is so locked into that pattern of thought and behavior that she can't stop. Cook's portrayal of this is very effective, and rather poignant if you've known somebody like that yourself.

The city of TunFaire remains one of my favorite fantasy settings, taking many of the typical conventions of fantasy- fairly widespread magic, a roughly medieval level of technology, races like elves and dwarves- and creating something that feels quite different from the typical fantasy world. It's interesting to see how it, too, is changing, as society adjusts to the end of the war, new inventions make large-scale manufacturing more economically significant than it has ever been before, and Relway's reformed city watch brings a previously unknown level of law and order to the city- and is becoming a political force in its own right. TunFaire is more peaceful than it used to be- though that's a relative measure.

The overall tone of the story is more upbeat than many of the previous Garrett books. The Garrett, P.I. series has never been as dark as Glen Cook's Black Company series, and Garrett himself is a fun character and narrator, but nevertheless a number of the previous Garrett books have had a strong sense of sadness or melancholy about them. There's some of that here, too, but all in all the world seems brighter here than it often has in the past.

Gilded Latten Bones is is very strongly recommended for fans of the Garrett series, and I strongly recommend the series as a whole (starting with Sweet Silver Blues) for anyone who likes fantasy and is interested in something different from the norm.

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