The Seascape Tattoo
by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes
Review by Mel Jacob
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765378736
Date: 28 June 2016 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Larry Niven and Steve Barnes have collaborated to provide an exciting new fantasy, The Seascape Tattoo, part of their series the Magic is Missing. Two old enemies must unite to save a princess and prevent a war against insurmountable odds.
Neoloth, a wizard, recovers an old and once powerful talisman by trading spear heads with the Merfolk. He uses what little power it has to enhance his powers. He has fallen in love with Princess Tahlia and hopes to keep her safe on her journey to a kinsman's wedding in Shrike. However, she is taken prisoner by men on strange ships and only one sailor survived. His tale of the steam breathing ships frightens the Queen. Neoloth reassures her and begins his plans for a journey.
The wizard manipulates affairs so his barbarian enemy, Aros of Azteca, is imprisoned and in danger of hanging. He then presents Aros with an opportunity to survive if he works with him to recover the princess. Preferring action to death by hanging, Aros agrees. Thus begins their trek through the dessert to recover certain talismans.
Neoloth has a scheme to pass Aros off as the missing son of an Aztecan woman and a Shrike general named Silith who may be as powerful as the king of Shrike. An encounter with a desert tribe enables them to find the burial place of a boy who might have been the missing son. Using magic, Neoloth transfer the tattoos from the corpse to Aros, storing Aros own tattoos in his pet snake. The wizard and Aros then head to coast to take a ship to Shrike and put Neoloth’s scheme in play.
In Shrike, multiple forces are at work. One faction, headed by a powerful wizard seeks to take over the country and wage war on others. This group is also providing the steam driven vessels and other wonders. It appears General Silith is allied with this group.
Silith is no fool and remains skeptical of his wife Jade's insistence that Aros might be their missing son. He takes Aros into training and is impressed by his skills. Mutual respect grows between Silith and Aros.
Niven and Barnes provide an engrossing adventure story with plenty of action. Some characters verge on stereotypes, and overall the story uses familiar tropes to create an interesting adventure. The Merfolk are especially fascinating. A few too many clichés are used, but the action keeps pulling the story along.