||It's highly refreshing to find an epic fantasy that escapes mediaeval "Fantasyland" settings. Opening with The Harlequin's Dance (1997) Tom Arden's five-book "Orokon" sequence has a late 18th-century flavour, mixing swashbuckling adventure, Hogarthian lowlife and Regency high society. The King and Queen of Swords begins in a city resembling Jane Austen's Bath during ballroom season--though here events in the Pump Room and bedroom can be much spicier.
Young hero Jem's quest for five magic crystals is complicated by suitable melodrama: abductions, betrayals, impersonations, secret identities, notorious highwaymen, inheritances conditional on unlikely marriages and a pistol duel with a shocking outcome. Meanwhile heroine Cata has had her memory wiped and is being remade (with difficulty) as a young society lady; and the old, drunken usurper King of Ejland is a mere puppet of his First Minister, who's involved in schemes to bring back the horrid anti-god Toth. Exactly why do enigmatic mentors want Jem to gather the crystal keys to Toth's power?
Crystal number two lies in the adjacent land, Zenzau, against which Ejland is busily going to war. Jem stumbles through a battle zone, guided by unreliable fairy tales and cryptic, haunting repetitions of the Swords Song:
Everything is lemon and nothing is lime, But even the truth shall be revealed in time...The climax features battle, dragons, shape-shifters, court cards that come dangerously alive and multiple revelations. Witty, stylish and gloriously convoluted. Next, the saga takes an Oriental turn in Sultan of the Moon and Stars. --David Langford