Tricksy tricksy writing. It's lucky it's good writing, or the tricksiness of it would be a little too precious. Indeed it wasn't until the second layer of tricks hit, that I was really hooked.
The description makes it pretty clear what this is all about. A young historian in a sword and sorcery type world, hunts down an old man who babbles in his cups about feats of the past, and a magical sword of destiny that he might have once had hold of. Our young historian Viola hopes he is the real thing, not just a wishful old drunk.
And so it begins, with our old drunk Dun-Cadal, relating his story a little incoherently to Viola, and herein lies the first layer of tricksiness. This is a bit beyond the standard flashback sequence, because Dun-Cadal is often unaware if he's speaking or remembering, and sometimes confuses people and events in the present, with memories, giving us our first hints that he may not be the most reliable narrator. Nor is it clear how much of what we're reading, he's actually saying out loud to Viola. The plot frequently drifts between the past and the present from paragraph to paragraph. All of which sounds dreadfully complicated, but it's actually surprisingly easy to follow, once you get the hang of it.
And then we get to part II. Here we get a Rashômon style alternate point of view as simultaneously with the present day plot moving along at a quick pace, another character remembers his version of many of the same events Dun-Cadal has already told. Not only is there a different perspective, but there's a hint this narrator is no more reliable than the first - and the main person he's trying to fool is himself.
The plot itself, is the usual political intrigue, old warhorses and young firebrands, revenge and betrayal, honour and oaths.
I expect the writing style will not be to everyone's taste, , I wasn't sure it was for me until I was quite a ways in. But for me it worked neither despite nor because of the tricks, fun as they are, but ultimately because the characters are fantastic.
And now I have to wait for the second book to go and get translated.