We have encountered many books of the Chronicles by now. We’ve read good ones, bad ones, and great ones. Like Volume IX, “The Black Death” has an interesting developing history, as Hohlbein first wanted the story to take place once again in Vienna, which was not only once again under siege by the Turks, but also plagued by the Plague (I apologise for my pun). It would have involved Andrej going to the “Tower of Fools” (Narrenturm), which is, coincidently, right beside the campus of university of Vienna (though this is more due to the fact that the campus has once been the old general hospital).
So to say I was thrilled would be an understatement. This is what the cover would have looked like:
The cover shows Andrej’s loyal compagnion Abu Dun, holding his famous scimitar. A suiting cover to the title in my opinion. But a few months before release, it has been announced that Hohlbein would have made some drastic changes to the story. It would not be set in Vienna, but Venice, one (and a half) year(s) after the events of “Blaze and Ashes” (While before the change the book would have taken place in 1683). The cover got also remade, and now looks like this:
This is Meruhe, the goddess (in case you didn’t know or haven’t read my previous posts), an Nubian like Abu Dun himself.
Hohlbein reasened these changes by saying some of his sidestories have got out of hand and he didn’t want to write a book that’s too long with too much stuff going on (which didn’t hinder him to write an even longer book in which almost nothing happened -> Volume XIII)
So, I think it’s time to start the actual review: There will be heavy spoilers, for those who haven’t read the previous ones.
Andrej’s son Marius is very much alive and loathes his father. Andrej and Abu Dun try to locate him and Meruhe in Venice, which is about to celebrate the carnival. Marius has been taken to a mental hospital on a lonely island, but there is no sign of life of neither Meruhe nor her two female warriors Nefri and Kifra. Frederic – I mean Marius – also behaves strangely, by doing…NOTHING whatsoever, just sitting there in his dirty cell, only accompied by his only friend, a strangely behaving large rat.
Not THAT rat. While staying in Venice, Andrej is having bad dreams about Marius wanting to kill him, most of the time after he has been sleeping with beautiful hooker Corinne, who later turns out to be just a bored aristocrat. (The hooker with the golden vault I would say)
There are some mysterious encounters with Meruhe and her compagnions, and Abu Dun gets bitten by a rat, and starts – you probably guessed it – behving strangely. He later vanishes and tries to kill Andrej. There is also this head of Venician police, who thinks Andrej is a [insert criminal and illegal personalized noun], and tries to bring him in. I mention this because this character will be of some importance later.
Long story short: The main villain is in fact Marius (Oh, what a twist!), who has been working through his rat (though he is able to take over other people by himself for he is actually a ghost, spoilers). And his goal is to destroy Andrej. In the end, Andrej does nothing while the policeman shoots Meruhe, who in profress kills Marius and herself by jumping into a furnace.
This book is bad! Seriously, the cliffhanger at the end of Vol XI (Frederic being Marius all the time) was great and gave high hopes for the sequel. But this book ruined everything. The story is blank, and everybody knows it the villain is Marius , but Andrej is too stupid to get it. The idea of Marius impersonating everybody Andrej loves and knows is brilliant, but it never pays off.
Corinne, the love interest, is almost as hateable und boring as Meruhe is. She is such a blank character. Hohlbein tried to make her to a new Maria-like character, but she is never as loveable as the original “Delany-girl”. In fact she is rather annoying, and only begins to become little interesting after half the book is over (and I say begins, though she never develops any further)
The disgusting reveal that Andrej has been sleeping with Marius almost all the time (yeah, child abuse and incest!), reminds me of the twist at the end of “The Bloodcountess”. It’s very disturbing, but oddly enough it suits the dark theme of the chronicles.
All the time, you think that the black death will occur (you know, the disease the book has it’s title from), but no, it’s just Abu Dun / Meruhe running amok. That’s a lot of missed potential.
All in all, the book is very disappointing. We get a few (very few) answers mixed with tons of new questions (yeah, Marius has been Frederic all the time and a lot of other people Andrej’s encountered, but who and how). The worst part is that Andrej did NOTHING in the finale whatsoever. He should have been the one to finish Marius off, not some unsympathetic supporting character. But you know what’s good about the book? Meruhe is finally killed off! Yay!