Review: 'The Goldenlea', by Rose LaCroix
Faol Carric[k] was born to rule, inheriting the dukedom upon the passing of his father. Immediately tested by the conspiracy of the usurper Virgil Dol, Faol will need to prove his worth as a leader, a fighter, and a strategist if he is to survive—much less regain his place as the rightful ruler of the Goldenlea. (publisher’s blurb)
Faol Carrick is a wolf, Duke Ignis was a wolf, Balthasar Viverra is a genet; and we are off and running in a Medievalish anthropomorphic adventure of treachery and redemption among the nobility.
This title is a work of anthropomorphic fiction for adult readers only. (publisher’s advisory)
The protagonist is young “Duke Faol Carrick; Liege of the Goldenlea, the largest and most important province in the land of Occidentania. Protector of Northarbour and the South and Western borders. Knight of His Royal Highness King Brannagh II.” (p. 11) This was to have been the morning that Faol’s father, Duke Ignis, ceremonially abdicated in his favor, although everyone expected the old Duke to continue ruling unofficially while Faol gained years of experience. Instead, Duke Ignis has unexpectedly died, throwing the inexperienced and insecure Faol into the maelstrom of court politics. Faol’s only genuine friend is Balthasar Viverra, captain of the Duke’s Guard.
If you consider Duke Ignis’ death suspiciously timed, you are apparently the only one. Yes, it was indeed arranged; by Councilor Virgil Dol, a lynx who is the younger brother of one of Faol’s vassals, the Baron of the Southlands. Virgil is serving as the youngest of the five courtiers of the Duke’s Council. In public, Dol is quiet and self-effacing. At night he holds secret meetings to plot Faol’s overthrow, with his trusted henchmen whom he does not hesitate to kill in cold blood to keep the others in line; also to show the reader how ruthless he really is.
Dol’s actions during daytime are so openly furtive that I could not help thinking of Luigi Vampa, the bandit chieftan in Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. While everyone else in town dresses and acts normally, Luigi Vampa slinks about dressed entirely in black, with a cloak that he twirls and a black slouch hat hiding his face. The writing in The Goldenlea obviously emphasizes Dol’s sneakiness for the reader’s benefit, yet nobody notices anything wrong – except for Faol and Balthasar, who begin to Suspect Something.
Balthasar began. ‘I don’t know if you know, Faol, but every single day of my life since I was a squire has been written down, with special attention paid to anything unusual. Now, up until your father’s passing …’
‘You can say death, Spott, we both know a duke dies no more gracefully than a swineherd,’ said Faol.
‘… Until then,’ the genet continued, ‘There was no mention of Councilor Dol in my notes because he seemed harmless. But look through this volume, I’ve marked the relevant pages and underscored the primary passages.’
Faol read through them, reading aloud the dates and entries:
’22 Imor, 1054: Councilor Dol requested a word with my lieutenant, Polonius Blackbrush [a fox]; He failed to state his business. The two withdrew to the councilor’s study for four hours, neither emerging for so much as a moment until sundown. Both were evasive on the nature of the discussion.’
’26 Imor, 1054: A large number of my books on military strategy, as well as a number of maps, went missing while I was on duty; A brief search found them in a burrow outside Councilor Dol’s own study. Upon asking he replied that he was transcribing them on behalf of his brother, seemed rather reluctant to answer any further inquiry.’
‘5 Plas, 1054: Polonius Blackbrush failed to report for duty on time. When asked where he was, he was evasive, but eventually stated that he had been at Councilor Dol’s private cottage. A page in the service of the councilor, whom I asked later, confirmed this, and added that there was a large meeting about something at said cottage and that he had been made to wait outside and knew nothing more.’
These entries continued, increasing in suspicion and frequency as the month wore on. (pgs. 32-33)
When the boorish Duke of Eastsea, a lynx distantly related to the Dols, pays a state visit to the Goldenlea, his cousins the Dols are required by courtesy to host him at their manor. The manor undergoes a surprise night attack by unknown brigands in which Eastsea and all of the Dols except Virgil and his family are killed. This makes Virgil the new Baron of the Southlands, and the next in succession to the dukedom (whatever happened to the word ‘duchy’?) of the Goldenlea if Faol, the last of the Carricks, should die without an heir. Faol considers this enough to accuse Virgil of plotting against him, and he places Virgil under house arrest while he sends all of his evidence to King Brannagh [an otter].
Unfortunately, the king will listen to no accusations of evil against a member of the House of Dol, especially based on mere suspicions and circumstantial evidence. “I’ll not have such words against a respectable house!” (p. 55) Faol is ordered to release and apologize to the new Baron of the Southlands. The search for the “Tartussian brigands” who sacked Dol Manor is aimed toward the north, where the raiders are supposed to have allied with sea corsairs. Faol and Balthasar, now openly Dol’s enemy, can only try to guard their own safety and wait for Dol to strike against him more obviously. But Dol is aiming for a higher goal – the throne of Occidentania itself.
Mark Twain said in 1888, “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” The Goldenlea is full of lightning-bug prose. Characters talk stiltedly to each other. (Baltasar to Faol: “An arrow, a blade, a bloodthirsty foe, I don’t fear them. They can only kill me in this realm, where death is only normal, but they will never destroy my soul. But this thing … this is a thing from the realm of spirits, I can feel it.” - p. 21) The characters do not seem to act quite authentically for Medieval nobility, although LaCroix covers this by specifying that this anthropomorphic world is a recreation of human civilization in the far future. At one point an ancient human book with the legend “First printing 12 August 2064 – Hayward and Higgins – London” is described.
But details of writing aside, The Goldenlea has a solid plot. Faol and Balthasar expect treachery, and although they are only two, they plan intelligently against it. Virgil Dol is clever, but he has to guard against a deadly schemer in his own camp; the seductive poisoner Lirio the panthress. There are mysterious ancient Kanil ruins, and an even more mysterious semi-religious order from the past, the foxlike Jiya:
As Balthasar’s eyes adjusted to the dim light he noticed that there was not a black hair on the poor creature’s body; wherever dark markings would normally be on a fox, his fur was as pure and solid white as it could be; rather than a white tip on his long tail, a single white band could be seen about midway down its length. This creature was decidedly not a fox; only one creature had markings like this one.
‘It can’t be!’ the genet gasped. “A Jiya? But how?’ (p. 95)
Occidentania is left behind as Faol and Balthasar travel to the other kingdoms of this world. Faol returns to Occidentania as the outlaw leader Thalet Worobil. Faol and Balthasar show why The Goldenlea is for adult readers only. There is a climax at the Isle of Monsters, but enough plot threads are left dangling that there will probably be a sequel.
You may wince frequently at infelicities in the writing, but The Goldenlea will keep you engrossed to follow where the story will take you next. Yeah, get it.