Thraxas by Martin Scott
Paperback - 220 pages ( 1 April, 1999)
Orbit; ISBN: 1857237293
Review by John Berlyne
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SFRevu Author Interview: Martin Scott
"Thraxas" by Martin Scott has just scooped the 2000 World Fantasy award beating off such heavy-weight contenders as James P Blaylock, Steven Erikson and Peter S Beagle. This is the first such award Scott has won and from the evidence found within his slim novel it is unlikely to be the last.
The eponymous hero of the story is a private investigator. I don't think I'm unkind in likening him to a cross between the guy who runs the comic book store in "The Simpsons" and a wry, somewhat self-loathing drinker in the Raymond Chandler mould. Thraxas prides himself in being the cheapest PI in the whole of Turai - a magical city made up of districts that seem to compete with each other as to which can be the most dangerous and unsavory. Thraxas resides in two upstairs room at the Avenging Axe, an insalubrious establishment run by Gurd - an ex-barbarian who is an old mate from their army days. Thraxas too is an "ex" - ex-sorcerer (he flunked out of his magic studies before he made it to apprentice); ex-senior investigator at the palace (drank himself out of the job); ex-husband (his wife ran off to the Fairy Glade with a Sorcerer's apprentice half his age) - in short, he's seen better times. If it wasn't for the calming effects of his excessive indulgence in food, drink and the occasional smoke of "thazis" (a mild narcotic), he'd probably have much to gripe about but in spite of his circumstances he manages to maintain a very healthy cynicism and it is this quality which actually makes a rather capable investigator.
I won't bother to regale you with how the plot pans out. In many ways it is formulaic crime/mystery writing but Scott makes sure that he (and thus us too) has a lot of fun with the added elements the fantasy genre can bring to this kind of tale. For example he gives his man an appealing side-kick, Makri - a fierce ex-gladiator of mixed orcish, elvish and human heritage. Clad throughout the novel in a chain-mail bikini, this axe-wielding wonder-woman likes a fight, sure (and there is is a lot of fighting in this book!) but she's also into self improvement and takes courses in architecture and philosophy at the local college!
Scott gives a gritty depiction of life in Turai. The city is rife with political corruption and suffers from a drug problem that reaches every level of society. This environment is by no means original. There are guilds and societies a la Ankh-Morpork, but he makes it his own nonetheless. His treatment of magic in this environment is one of the novels great successes. Basically even the most powerful sorcerers can only hold a limited number of spells in their heads at any one time. Once they're used they have to be relearned. The concept serves the novel very well.
Thraxas is not short on action - indeed Scott's dry delivery and economical style make this a very satisfying and compelling read. In many ways I was reminded of Jonathan Letham's excellent "Gun with Occasional Music" - (though science fiction as opposed to fantasy) another successful fusion of genres.
Though the prize winning first novel only came out last year Orbit have already published three follow-up titles, "Thraxas and the Warrior Monks," Thraxas at the Races, " and "Thraxas and the Elvish Isles" and I understand a fifth title is already in the pipeline. With the WFA in the bag it seems assured that Thraxas and Martin Scott will deservedly be around for while.