that strange DnD monster,
I told you I'd read another of these Eddie LaCrosse mysteries before too long, & it turns out that means "right a-friggin'-way." I mean, sure I read a book club book first, & I wasn't going to let Bitterblue just sit on the shelf, but a two-book gap is pretty tiny, if you ask me. I thought this volume was a really great addition to the series; this is the pirate story, if you can't tell from the title. The previous novel in the series, Dark Jenny, also had a heavier theme to it; while Sword-Edged Blonde was about castles & religion & Burn Me Deadly was about crooks & dragons, those are more just the plot of the stories. Dark Jenny's twist on Arthurian myth & Wake of the Bloody Angel's nautical theme are much more knit into the fabric of the story, both narratively & in tone. There is just a feel to those sorts of stories. At the same time, Wake... is a totally different animal from ...Jenny; while the latter fully embraces the vibe of Camelot, Wake uses the fact that it is anchored in a literary tradition as an excuse to lay on the anachronisms. Calling the ship a "twenty-gunner" is the first of them, & a point I always wonder about. You know, the anachronisms built into language, & into nouns-- things named after people are always interesting, for example. Referring to "guns" in the context of a ship makes sense, but we're talking about arbalasts here; crossbows, not combustion. "Gun" probably comes from the Norse name "Gunnildr"-- yeah, I looked it up-- & I kept expecting a little aside from our protagonist about some famous quasi-Viking shipwright or what have you. Jokes about a "man named Sue" are a subtle nod, but then Bledsoe just puts the pedal to the medal & makes a flat-out "Interrupting Cow" joke. Just went right ahead & put that in. In my current Oubliette campaign I've got a philosophy of gleefully saying "eff it!" when I have doubts if a thing is to over-the-top; it seems that Alex Bledsoe might share that ideology.
The writing is, again, that careful balance that mysteries can sometimes blend-- both being smarter than you & allowing you to be smarter than everyone else. Too much in one direction can render the story opaque; too much in the other can make you despise the characters for being morons. As usual, Bledsoe's biggest weapon against both is internal consistency. The Wake of the Bloody Angel makes sense. Eddie LaCrosse has his office above a tavern, & this is the story of the proprietor, his friend Angelina. Her backstory has been hinted at in previous books...& everything we learn helps put all those hints in place. The sequence of events isn't pulled from thin air; it hangs together because it is all of one piece. Which, as a sidenote, is another of the facets of Alex Bledsoe's writing style that I admire. He introduces side characters & if they live, they continue to matter. Even if they aren't on screen, they're doing something; creating people like Liz, Jane, Barbara & Suhonen means that the universe feels like it exists outside the scope of the narrative focus. It lends an air of a living story. Speaking of Jane, I think the existence of a female deuteragonist is a nice trick for getting over the predominant male viewpoint; Jane was a bit pin-up girl in points, a little chainmail bikini, but I think it would make for a good reoccurring feature. Within the frame, even, Bledsoe is good at providing little side-mysteries for the reader...& then answering them without drawing them out, whether or not you've figured it out. The missing lemons from the ship's galley? Of course. The mystery of the ghost ships? Well...that brings us back to one of the tentpole features of these books, & a trope that I am amazed the books are able to reuse-- suspicion at claims of the supernatural. Each of the books has left you asking "well, but is this fantasy element really magical?" & I think Bledsoe pulls it off by having Occam's razor mostly be right. Most of the time it is a con, or an optical illusion, or something reasonable...which leaves the reader wonder if the mystery is going to be a ghost? A kraken? A giant deep sea angler? Or just pirates? Poison? This time, when the axe fell, it took me by surprise, which is pretty impressive.