The Black Mausoleum


Stephen Deas


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

February 1, 2022

fter reading The Moonsteel Crown by Stephen Deas, I liked it, and so I checked to see what other books by Deas were in the Shoreline Library Catalog. The only book in physical format (ie: not an e-Book) was The Black Mausoleum. But it was book 4 on in the seven book Memory of Flames series, so I should just skip it, right? But then I noticed the following on Goodreads: Set in Memory of Flames world are two trilogies and a standalone novel. Loosely related to the Thief-Takerís Apprentice series. First three books are a trilogy, the original Memory of Flames. The Black Mausoleum is a standalone novel set in the same world. Second trilogy, The Silver Kings follows closer on to original trilogy, picks up threads from Thief-Takerís Apprentice series and The Black Mausoleum.

Assured that The Black Mausoleum was a stand alone novel, I checked it out and read it. Hmmm. Not having read the first three books, I don't know if these characters appear in the earlier editions, but there seems to be few events that are not clear to me. Apparently there once was a civilization that kept dragons as tamed beasts, but the dragons escaped and wreaked devastating havoc, and now the world lies in smouldering ruins. I have to wonder how this world could have survived before the dragons were tamed, because it seemed to me that dragons absolutely destroy everything if left to their own devices. What did the wild dragons eat once the landscape was torched? How did humans ever get to the point where they built a civilization capable of capturing and subduing the powerful dragons? Perhaps this is explained in the first trilogy.

The Black Mausoleum is told from the perspective of three characters, Kataros, Skjorl, and Siff. Some other characters get their own chapters, including Blackscar, who is an ancient, vengeful dragon (dragons are intelligent in the Memory of Flames canon).

Kataros is an alchemist. She is a skillful magic worker on a quest to see if she can rediscover the ancient magic/relics that are used to control the dragons. Kataros has Blood Mage capabilities which make her powerful indeed - if her blood gets into your body, she can control you. You are forced to obey her commands. Kataros can also simply use her blood as a weapon - splashes of her blood can burn her opponents like acid. Kataros is the most likeable of the characters in The Black Mausoleum, because she is searching for a way to help out what remains of civilization's ruins.

Skjorl is an Adamantine Warrior. That means he is trained to kill dragons. An Adamantine Warrior shows no mercy, knows no fear, is an expert in weapons, possessing incredible endurance and inured to pain. Adamantine Warriors are single-mindedly focused on killing dragons - they will march great distances to find dragon nests so that they can smash the eggs before they hatch. An Adamantine Warrior carries poison in his armor, so that if a dragon eats him, he will kill the dragon (since the dragons are smart, I would think that this strategem will quickly be noticed by the dragons). Skjorl is one of the best of the Adamantine Warriors, but unfortunately he is also completely amoral, ruthless and quite willing to slaughter his fellow humans to suit his own ends. The reader starts out by admiring Skjorl's daring raids against the dragons, but the more that Deas reveals of Skjorl's nature, the less likeable Skjorl becomes. He is a classic anti-hero, like Kane, in Karl Edward Wagner's Bloodstone. (The novels of Kane are quite a high bar, despite him being another ruthless, amoral killer, Wagner's fantasy novels featuring Kane are excellent reads). Fortunately, Skjorl is captured by the blood of Kataros, and finds himself working for her cause, much as he would rather not.

Siff is hard to figure out, his character doesn't really come alive until about halfway through the book. I wonder if Siff is a character in the earlier trilogy, because there are things about Siff that are curious.

Deas creates a fine fantasy world. It is full of danger and magic. The characters face endless obstacles and unexpected threats. They prove to be resourceful, but suffer numerous setbacks. There is certainly a lot of action. The mighty dragons are well depicted, perhaps they are the true heroes in this novel (though Blackscar is solely focused on killing and revenge against the Adamantine men, so he isn't as well-developed a character as the smug Smaug).

If I could find a copy of the first book, The Adamantine Palace, in the Memory of Flames series, I would read it. Deas has constructed an interesting world that merits further exploration.