The King’s Justice – Stephen Donaldson

“The man rides his horse along the old road through the forest in a rain as heavy as a damask curtain – a rain that makes dusk of midafternoon.”

A man rides into a small town recently afflicted by a horrible murder. The locals are suspicious, but the stranger, known only as Black, has but to rub a mark carved into his skin and they are reassured, if puzzled. Black can sense the evil and the trail it has left. He has come to deliver the King’s Justice.

Stephen Donaldson is one of the Big Names in fantasy, after The Chronicles of Thomas Convenant. I’ve read and enjoyed most of his books, but have to say that while the stories are pretty amazing, the tone of the writing is often a little close to the line of pretentious and affected – and yet, still worth reading.

The short form can make this even more obvious. I can’t imagine many writers getting away with so much introspection from the main character, half the story being inner thoughts hinting at Deeply Important ‘stuff’ and tortured pasts and rather a bit too much ‘telling’ instead of ‘showing’.

There’s also a tendency to try to be as slow to reveal anything as possible, and I think if this had been any longer than a short novella it would have come across as annoying rather than building mystery.

And yet… Donaldson is a strong writer, and despite all of the above the story kept my attention, kept me wondering, and pulled all of the threads together rather well by the end. Perhaps the biggest strength is the feeling that there is a large, well-conceived, and very intriguing world going on behind this tale, and we’re being treated to the merest glimpse – so far!

(Note: there are two books that may be called ‘The King’s Justice’ – this, the single novella, and another that also includes The Augur’s Gambit.)

Kindle: 128 pages
First published: 2016
Series: none
Read from 27th October – 3rd November 2016

My rating: 6.5/10

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