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Book review: Ten Ruby Trick, by Julia Knight

Black into white into blue into grey into black. Order and pattern are the way of Holden’s life, buffering his mind from the reality that he is mage-bonded to the Master of the Archipelago, with no choice but to obey his every whim or die in agony. So when the Master commands him to capture the notorious privateer Andor Van Gast, Holden has no qualms about using his former lover Josie to do it. Josie, herself a pirate captain of no mean repute, is well known to be Van Gast’s worst enemy, so surely she will be happy to help Holden? In fact Josie and Van Gast are secret lovers, using their famed rivalry to fool their victims into siding with one or the other in elaborate confidence tricks–and Josie intends Holden to be next. This time, though, the stakes are higher than money or treasure. If anything goes wrong, both she and Van Gast could end up dead–or worse.

Ten Ruby Trick is in many ways the perfect swashbuckling romance. Van Gast is the quintessential rogue-with-a-heart-of-gold, always ready to do the stupid-but-exciting thing; Josie is cunning as a bag of foxes and stubborn as all hell. There are sea battles, storms, chases (lots of chases!) and a really nasty villain to boo – what’s not to like?

This is no bland medieval fantasy world, however. The majority of the inhabitants are dark-skinned, apart from the Viking-like Gan, and gunpowder weapons sit comfortably alongside magic that can quell storms or erect forcefields against cannonades. Most intriguing of all is the magic of the Archipelago, which crystallises on its users’ skins, turning them into helpless grotesques, barely able to move and reliant on their slaves for everything. This is nasty, dark magic at its most imaginative.

I began my review with Holden, as does the book, because although Van Gast is undeniably the hero of the story, Holden is the anti-hero. He’s the guy we want to fail – and yet whose struggles against the vile magics that hold him in thrall cannot help but engage the reader’s sympathy. The theme of this book is freedom, and no character embodies that theme better than Holden.

If you enjoyed Pirates of the Caribbean or Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar books and don’t mind a dash of unsoppy romance with your fantasy, I recommend you give Ten Ruby Trick a whirl!

Ten Ruby Trick is available as an ebook published by Carina Press.