4 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
Fifth in the Thraxas series, Thraxas and the Sorcerers is a fun, lighthearted, fast moving traditional swords-and-sorcery fantasy detective story. The plot really moves along and focuses more on humor and action than on the more cerebral aspects of the mystery. The main characters are all well defined and funny; the side characters are more serious, but also decently put together. The setting is well developed by the previous four books in the series and feels very organic and as realistic as a swords-and-sorcery setting can be. There is quite a bit of drug and alcohol abuse depicted, so someone who doesn’t want to see that depicted might want to steer clear, but this is no way a trippy psychedelic 60s or 70s throwback fantasy novel. Overall I would recommend this book as a fun fantasy romp.
Thraxas is a failed sorcerer and retired soldier who has become a detective. He isn’t much of a traditional heroic fantasy figure, as he cares more about food and drinking than he does about grander heroic motives. When the sorcerer’s guild has an election in his home nation of Turai, he is tasked to ensure that the hometown favorite, a degenerate drug abuser named Lisutaris, wins the election. When things start to go wrong, Thraxas must scramble to avoid being killed and plunging Turai into war.
In most humorous fantasy series, the protagonists are set up as serious straight men in opposition to a bizarre and funny world of magic. This creates an annoying dynamic where the main characters seem to be shallow, nothing more than plot devices to move the story along. Martin Scott solves this problem by taking the opposite approach and plays the world completely straight as a serious swords-and-sorcery fantasy setting and the main characters as the objects of humor, as they are quirky and strange. This approach was refreshing and very well executed. It would have been very easy for a main character who consistently shirks his duties to get drunk and eat pie to come off as an obnoxious caricature of a glutton, but the author deftly adds just enough depth that he is endearing rather than odious.
Readers looking for an intellectual mystery would be best served to look elsewhere. Although there is a bit of a whodunnit towards the middle of the story, it really isn’t the main focus, and it would be nearly impossible to solve the mystery with the clues provided outside of the final reveal. I’m not a fan of this style of lazy mystery writing, but the mystery isn’t really the core of the story, so it doesn’t detract much for me. There isn’t a great deal of action either, but what there is is fast paced and exciting enough to satisfy.
This isn’t a deep book by any means. If you want a fun, fast moving, funny adventure then this is probably a book you should consider.
Comparisons to Other Authors:
For a more mystery-oriented fantasy series I would suggest Glen Cook’s Garrett P.I. series, starting with Sweet Silver Blues. This series is a little more serious, but still fun. For a more humorous take on the fantasy detective genre, I would recommend Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! or Nightwatch.