Farlander is the second book with a recommendation by Glen Cook that I have not liked this year. (The other book was Awakenings by Edward Lazellari.) I have decided that even though I really like Cook’s writing, that his taste in books and mine are very, very different. This book is a hard book to classify as either fantasy or science fiction and it has a steampunk feel without the Victorian trappings. (I would almost have preferred the usual Victorian trappings compared to what I did get.)
The plot follows an order of assassins called the Roshun, who have a very peculiar business plan. Instead of being paid by the client to kill people, they kill people who have killed their client. This business model has somehow worked for a very long time but is not much of a threat to the son and heir of the local Evil Empire who decides to celebrate becoming an adult by assaulting and murdering one of the order’s clients.
(The Evil Empire is evil because it is run by a “dark urban cult” which seems to have a creed that combines Objectivism with rituals that usually involve rape, torture and murder. The rituals that don’t involve rape, torture and murder involve orgies and public prayer. The public prayer involves priests in high towers who sing or shout the prayers while all the bystanders have to kneel.)
A team of assassins is eventually sent to kill the heir of the Evil Empire. Our protagonists are the titular character and his apprentice and the titular character’s rival and his apprentice. The titular character’s apprentice is a sad sack who had attempted to steal from the titular character. Young Sadsack is possibly the least successful apprentice ever and seems to be there to be the Young Thief that every epic fantasy needs. (The boy is no Jimmy the Hand. He’s not even Talen.) The Sadsack is friends with the apprentice of titular character’s rival, and the rival’s apprentice is the Anomalous Good Character from the Evil Empire.
This merry little adventure is told between scenes involving the rulers of the Evil Empire, and a few of their minions, one of whom it turns out had somehow infiltrated the assassin’s secret lair. The writer makes a few stabs at creating a kind of neutral “not villains but opponents” tone toward the antagonists but this fails miserably mostly because of the rape, torture and murder that makes a large part of the culture of the Evil Empire. The protagonists aren’t any more sympathetic than the antagonists. They spend a great deal of the novel not doing much of anything and the story just plods along toward a fairly predictable train wreck of an ending.