Deadly Secrets, by Leon Mintz

deadly-secrets-by-leon-mintz coverGenre: Fantasy
Publisher: Erie Harbor Productions
Published: 2003
Reviewer Rating: two stars
Book Review by David Hart

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The story takes place in Armorica (modern Brittany) in about 475AD. Darian is a young man who was adopted and raised by the Duc de Paimpont, and who now loves the Duc’s daughter. While he and the Duc are out hunting, they are attacked by a giant troll-like creature which Darian manages to kill. So when heroes are needed to slay a fire-breathing dragon, guess who gets to join the party.

That precis is rather misleading: there are only three fantasy elements in the book and I’ve just mentioned two of them. The third is the presence of Merlin, a druidic healer and adviser, wizard in the sense of ‘wise man’ rather than ‘mage’. I found Merlin’s nature and character to be one of the better elements of the book. And yes, across the English channel the name of the King is Arthur; this is a Camelot time-line, though one with more feeling of reality than those of Malory or T.H. White.

What is the book about if there isn’t much fantasy? Apart from dragon hunts, the first half is mostly romantic fiction, the second is political intrigue; and in both halves from time to time the action pauses for an explicit sex-scene, so the book is not for the prudish. The plot is reasonable but not very complex, and Merlin’s prophesising does reduce some of its surprise. Still, there’s a less-predictable twist at the end. Characterization is variable, with some of the main characters failing to ring true; but others, especially Merlin, felt much more solid.

This is a first book, and it’s self-published; how is the writing? It could be better. Descriptions are often too florid. Sentences are often over-complex. In fact Mintz frequently seems to be wrestling with the sentence structure, and sometimes the sentence structure wins. Dialogue is generally better than descriptive passages, but has two peculiarities.

First is the style. Quite correctly, Mintz avoids any Olde English thee’s and thou’s; after all, these people would have been speaking a language similar to Welsh. However he chooses to alternate between standard English and modern American vernacular, without any pattern that I could detect. Not a major issue, but it jars.

The second oddity is his consistent replacement of the word ‘you’ with ‘U’, resulting in sentences like “I can heal U if U let me”. I don’t know if this is an affectation, or if it is meant to reduce wear on his typing finger (hint: try Control+R or Control+H). Either way, it takes a bit of getting used to. But though it’s a minus point, I didn’t find the writing nearly bad enough to make the book unreadable. You can get a feel for it yourself, as Mintz has made the first seven chapters available on his web-site.

It’s just about worth mentioning three anachronisms. Mintz has his characters use the anno domini dating system 50 years before it was invented, which in a different time-line is excusable. More of a problem is castle design, which I suspect is 500 years in advance of its time. Worse still is allowing the hero to eat a meal that includes potato, 1000 years before the first tuber crossed the Atlantic.

In summary, I feel the book would have benefited if some of the complexity had been transferred from the sentences to the plot. Overall though, it’s a creditable first effort.

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