The wizard Jehrke Victorious, the Protector of Shasesserre, has kept the city safe for three centuries. Now, “Protector” is not an official title, and the king has reservations about Jehrke’s role in the city — after all, there can only be one ruler, and though Jehrke’s not one to push things, the king is not all that sorry when Jehrke is murdered. Nor is he thrilled when Jehrke’s son and heir, known as “Rider,” takes over his father’s role — or will, just as soon as he finds his father’s killer. Rider has a good idea who did the deed — or at least directed the murderers: his father’s old enemy, Kralj Odehnal. What he discovers is that Odehnal’s strings are being pulled by someone even more terrible.
Yes, it’s Cook but it’s not, quite. It’s a stripped-down story, with not quite so many layers of misdirection as we’re used to from Cook (although there is a full roster of traitors and spies), but the notable thing is the difference between Rider and Cook’s more usual protagonists. Unlike Croaker or Else Tage, Rider has whatever he needs right to hand, be it a spell or a knife, and situations keep playing into yet another unsuspected (by us, at least) part of his repertoire. Rider verges on being a comic-book superhero, a feeling only reinforced by the fact that, again in a departure from Cook’s more normal practice, we have almost no chance to see inside his head. (Not that knowing what Rider is thinking would help us at all — Croaker spends a lot of time ruminating, for all the good that does us, Croaker being a prime exponent of keeping things to himself. Rider also has that tendency to tell his crew “Don’t worry about it, just do what I told you.”)
The milieu is in keeping with the pulp feel — something of steampunk, something of heroic fantasy, something of action/adventure stories. (OK, a lot of action/adventure stories.) It’s a delightful combination of airships (powered by captive demons), magic mirrors, sorcerous webs, and fisticuffs.
Sung in Blood was originally published in 1990, which makes it a bit before mid-career for Cook. All the Cook hallmarks are there, but I’m not going to fall into the trap of calling it an “early” work: the overwhelming impression one takes away from this one is that Cook was having a ball — it’s a romp, a pulp masterpiece, and a lot of fun.
(Night Shade Books, 2006)