Dave Duncan – Emperor and Clown

Emperor and Clown by Dave Duncan (1991) is the fourth and final book of A Man of his Word. The previous books I have reviewed before this one, so I will leave out the introductory comments and move on to the actual review.

As stated in the previous review, book 3 ended in such a climactic cliffhanger that I was happy to have the next book at hand. Duncan really made the situation very complex to make it to the expected ending. One situation was quickly resolved, and in a way I had clearly missed because one could have thought about it in book 1 already. The second situation took longer and was well done.

The pacing was similar to that of book 3, but everything was clearly converging to one location so that meant the pacing would slow down again by that time. Not much time was wasted for getting there, so one could say the final started early in this book, although this book was 1.5 times longer than the previous ones. The final held many surprises. There was not much mainstream fantasy here. Duncan took the story in much different directions with some good character development that had been little in book 1, absent in book 2, more substantial in book 3, but clearly there in the final book. Book 4 was also different because it took one some new point of views. This was done to prepare for certain later developments, but it was also well done.

The conclusion of the story was somewhat prolongued, but also required, while holding some small surprises. Although it was entertaining it did take out the tension from the final events, thus weakening the overall strength of the book. Because of this I feel that book 3 is the best book of the series, then book 4, after that book 1 and book 2 was the weakest.

Now that the series is done I can look at the overall quality of the series. It was well balanced with decent world-building with little detail. Many races were presented, but most played a minor role. Of those which were more present the culture described was rather simplistic, not going further than basic characteristics with hardly anything that was unexpected, as the races were taken from earthly lore. It was nice to have them there, but they were so many that there was little space to really present them. So nothing above the average here.

Character development I have already discussed. It is of course not always required in my opinion. Such things always depend on the story, but they should be there when required and that was the case. The main characters were well done and sufficiently original for a tale of a quest.

The series is a fun and easy read. Somewhat mainstream, but Duncan manages sufficient twists and developments to not stick to the cliches and lift the series above mainstream. Still there are some weak points, but that could be seen as a matter of taste in how complex one wants the world to be. As a lot of ground is covered there could’ve been a bit more, but it was sufficient for the story which clearly kept focus on the two main characters and their impression of the world they saw. Certainly recommended for those preferring mainstream but looking for something refreshing but also for those (like me) preferring original and complex stories who like to enjoy some light stuff once in a while.

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