Science fiction and fantasy


Triumff: Her Majesty's Hero

by Dan Abnett

"A way with words." You would think that would be the bare minimum in a job description for a writer, but Dan Abnett doesn't like to stint his readers, going overboard with his colourful descriptions and riotous metaphors. In some hands it would be too purple to contemplate, but Abnett's verbal fencing is a delight. He's one of the few writers who can go on for five pages about rain, and still have you hooked like a salmon on a crack-dosed worm.

Triumff is an alternate history based on the premise that Leonardo da Vinci discovered the Arte of Magick and Queen Elizabeth I married the king of Spain, thus creating the Anglo-Hispanic Unity. Instead of the flourishing of science and industry that led to the space age, England has been mired in an Elizabethan era lasting hundreds of years. People are still fighting with swords, wearing ruffs and doublets, and travelling by horse and cart.

Rupert Triumff has recently returned from a voyage of discovery. Travelling to Australia has gained him a hero's reputation, but when we meet him he's drunk and trying to hold off an expert swordsman whilst he's armed with a nail buffer. Triumff's weapon is a Couteau Suisse, an instrument capable of countless functions, few of them handy in a tight spot. He finds himself in more and more of these after he's set up to take the blame for an act of treason.

All of a sudden everyone in London is looking for our hero. As he runs from the Church, agencies of the law, and other factions, he doesn't know who he can trust. A conspiracy is afoot. Triumff was due to return his Letters of Passage some months ago, in order to allow other people to exploit the new-found territories down under. He's stalling for time, and certain people want to force his hand or eliminate him altogether. There's breakneck action as Triumff dodges assassins and attempts to figure out who is behind the plot. The sedan chair chase through London is hilarious.

Dan Abnett has peopled his novel with some fantastic characters, such as Tantamount O'Bow, the hired thug with a vast vocabulary that he never uses in its proper context; Uptil, the educated foreigner who tries hard to play dumb; and William Beaver, the self-effacing narrator and news hound. Abnett isn't above a little parody either, with Neville do Quincey and Clinton Eastwoodho.

It's all extremely playful, though at the same time full of obscure references. The author has been busy with historical and linguistic re-invention. For instance, Nelson's Column is now Hardy's, and people eat nantwiches rather than sandwiches. There's a rich vocabulary of semi-obsolete words, and it's sometimes difficult to tell which ones are old-fashioned and which are the author's invention. He's not afraid to challenge his readers, but the reward is a rich vein of in-jokes for anyone who knows their history and is prepared to feel smug about getting the references.

Triumff invites inevitable comparisons with Terry Pratchett's Discworld books, thanks to its Britishness and highbrow humour. The character of Mother Grundy owes a lot to Granny Weatherwax. And to drum home the point just in case we weren't sure, Abnett also uses copious witty footnotes. Although the gags are often cheesier, the slapstick dafter and the puns more outrageous, this novel is easily in the same league as Pratchett, or indeed of any other comic fantasy author.

5 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson

Book Details

Year of release: 2009

Categories: Books
Highbrow Cheerful Male Protagonist

If you like this, try:

The Merchant of Dreams cover
The Merchant of Dreams by Anne Lyle
Mal is sent to spy in Venice, a city where everyone wears a mask. But what is hidden in the dream world could be worse than any threat he has yet faced. The second in the Night's Masque series.

Shadow of Night cover
Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
Matthew and Diana time travel to Elizabethan England to track down a manuscript witches and vampires are fighting over. The second in the All Souls trilogy.

The Alchemist of Souls cover
The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle
In an alternative Elizabethan England magic and treachery abound, and the theatrical players are not the only ones putting on an act.


Zidane 12th July, 2010 22:39pm

How can you compare the hallowed Pratchett with this? While I did enjoy this fine induction of the ridiculous world of mr Abbnet,comparing him to Pratchett is like comparing Michelangelo's David with Botticelli navel lint, it doesn't work.