Funeral by Kim Hunter
List Price: £9.99
Paperback - 343 pages (7 March, 2002)
Orbit; ISBN: 1841490970
Review by John Berlyne
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I put a positive spin on my review of Knight's Dawn (SFRevu Feb 2001 ), the first novel in the pseudonymous Kim Hunter's books of The Red Pavilions when it appeared a year ago. This was by no means an easy thing to do as I found the book to be a confused and meandering thing. There were good things in it though and thinking myself a constructive reviewer (and a sympathetic fellow,) I did commit myself to making the effort to pick up the next volume when it came out. So, here I am now, having to make good on my promise and the task looks to be no easier than it was last time round.
Wizard's Funeral picks up where Knight's Dawn left off and like its predecessor it opens well enough. Soldier is now a man of some status in Zamerkand, married to the Queen's sister. His wife, Lyana, is still quite mad and the city is still under threat from the various barbarian tribes that inhabit the surround lands. The court is a dangerous place for Soldier, coming as he has from such humble beginnings in the city but he has proved himself worthy of his position through valor. News reaches the city of the death of the King Magus a character not really mentioned in the previous book, but clearly someone with much influence in the land. A successor has been chosen and, somewhat conveniently, it is the young wizard boy who, along with his mother, Soldier befriended in Knight's Dawn. It falls to Soldier to find the boy and his mother (they've moved to a far off Kingdom) and to bring them back to Zamerkand so that the boy can go from there to take up his new position.
Soldier sets off on this first of many small adventures (these books are filled with often pointless quests) but of course, on the way back he messes up and the boy and his mother are kidnapped by marauding Hannack barbarians. This event sends Soldier off on another adventure, which in turn results in a further one that wasn't really connected with the one that preceded it or the one before that. The pattern of the story should be starting to become clear by now and you may well recognize it if you read Knight's Dawn (or indeed my review of it).
On the whole, Wizard's Funeral is a more genial work than Knight's Dawn, but it still suffers from the same problems. This is two-dimensional fantasy at its most flimsy. No great (or even small) allegories exist between these covers and this is not an author using the genre to examine any meaningful themes whatsoever. Not that there's anything wrong with that sometimes we just want a fun and exciting story rather than a political manifesto but the trouble with Kim Hunter's books is that they exist solely in a land of whimsy and as such they entirely lack substance and direction. Things happen but they don't seem to matter. Soldier blunders his way through but his aims and motives change like the wind. Convenient things happen to get him out of trouble, almost always preceded by the words "at that moment" which gives the story a dumbed-down, children's fairy tale feel. At the same time, this novel occasionally depicts scenes of great cruelty and violence, and set alongside the presence of comedy giants and a suspiciously Pratchettesque character coincidentally called Death, these internal paradoxes lead the reader down roads he/she cannot walk with confidence. The various scenes in the story prove to be nothing more than mere diversions from the non-existent plot. Also It worries me a little that the portentous title proves no more relevant to the overall story than a single scene lasting for only two or three pages and that the cover, showing a corpse hanging from a distant tree gives the impression that this is some sort of chilling horror story. It's all a bit misleading.
For all this, Wizard's Funeral, just as Knight's Dawn before it, has some moments that are enjoyable enough. Certainly Soldier is a much more solid character now that he has found his feet in this strange, enchanted land and his adventures, along with the various sidekicks he picks up along the way are often written with a wit that might appeal to fans of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories of Fritz Leiber. Unlike the Lankhmar tales however, I doubt that this strand of Kim Hunter's work will still be in print thirty years from its first appearance. Wizard's Funeral, again like Knight's Dawn before it, is an easy read, easily absorbed and digested and ultimately, easily forgotten.
© 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu