Low magic fantasy gets a new entry in Aidan Harte’s Irenicon, the first installment of the Wave Trilogy. With elements of Italy and assassins, Irenicon often is reminiscent of a dark ages Assassin’s Creed 2. Harte weaves the concept of loyalty in a unique twist on a coming of age tale. Despite the glowing similarity, I could never quite get into Harte’s story.
The river Irenicon is a feat of ancient Concordian engineering. Blasted through the middle of Rasenna in 1347, using Wave technology, it divided the only city strong enough to defeat the Concordian Empire. But no one could have predicted the river would become sentient—and hostile. Sofia Scaligeri, the soon-to-be Contessa of Rasenna, has inherited a city tearing itself apart from the inside. And try as she might, she can see no way of stopping the culture of vendetta that has the city in its grasp. Until a Concordian engineer arrives to build a bridge over the Irenicon, clarifying everything: the feuding factions of Rasenna can either continue to fight each other or they can unite against their shared enemy. And they will surely need to stand together—for Concord is about to unleash the Wave again.
While there were many reasons I thought I would enjoy Irenicon, they all seemed to fall short. First and foremost, the entire plot felt like I had played or seen it before, well the plot that I could make out. Much of the overall storyline became bogged down by seemingly insignificant detail and conversation. There were many times in the story where I simply had no idea what was going on other than a battle. It was as if Harte focused on the wrong details. Each skirmish was rushed through and it was hard to tell why each thing mattered to the world of Irenicon.
I had expected Irenicon to be action driven and I was unfortunately mistaken. While a lot of emphasis is placed on House or Guild honor and loyalty, each group lacks a fully realized- identity. This is somewhat frustrating as there are several key players that end up being simplified to ‘are you with the main character or not’. This cloudy division makes one less invested in the overall story and where it goes. One of the highlights was Harte’s use of flags or banners in combat. Though this was interesting, it wasn’t clearly utilized. The most frustrating part was that through all of the setup for many action scenes and combat, there were very few.
Characters weren’t memorable and I wondered if Harte simply based them on commedia dell’ arte. As an aside, if you don’t understand a lick of Italian you may not enjoy this book as the Italian influence is quite substantial, including many phrases being spoken in Italian. The characters I remember were truly remeniscent of commedia dell’ arte; there was Sofia the protagonist and her love interest Giovanni who were clearly the lovers (inamorato/a if you were wondering), the doctor (il dottore), and the Reverend Mother who I would cast as La Ruffiana. Now this may seem like a bit of a theater lesson but I actually liked that Harte reminded me of my history of theater classes. Even though I was able to predict exactly which characters were going to do what and when the storyline faltered or became blurred, I was still able to trudge forward. However I question if this is enjoyable to the reader who isn’t a theater geek.
Ultimately, the many cons outweighed the pros. It’s difficult to enjoy any story which doesn’t have a clear plot direction or setting. Though the one off chapters which gave insight into the world’s history were nice, they didn’t quite help create the picture of a fully realized world as I had hoped. For me, that pretty much sums up Irenicon; it wasn’t quite what I had hoped.