An Import of Intrigue by Marshall Ryan Maresca
Pub. Date: November 1, 2016
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, DAW!)
Summary: The neighborhood of the Little East is a collision of cultures, languages, and traditions, hidden away in the city of Maradaine. A set of streets to be avoided or ignored. When a foreign dignitary is murdered, solving the crime falls to the most unpopular inspectors in the Maradaine Constabulary: exposed fraud Satrine Rainey, and uncircled mage Minox Welling.
With a murder scene deliberately constructed to point blame toward the Little East, Rainey is forced to confront her former life, while Welling’s ignorance of his own power threatens to consume him. And these few city blocks threaten to erupt into citywide war unless the constabulary solves the case.
When I first heard about An Import of Intrigue, I was, well, intrigued. I love a good fantasy series and was instantly drawn to the central plot: a high-ranking dignitary similar to an earl has been murdered (the swift stabbing shows it was a crime of revenge and carefully planned, rather than a messy crime of passion) and the inspectors sent to solve the case are two of the most unpopular in the Constabulary. This broad, general idea could have been found in any genre and is one that instantly appealed to me – you know I love a good murder mystery!
Unfortunately, this novel definitely suffers from second book syndrome. Much as it was with Rachel Caine’s Paper and Fire, An Import of Intrigue jumps right into the story under the assumption readers are already caught up to speed with the previous book’s events and lingo.
Fantasy novels in particular need to be aware of the unfamiliar places, names, and words peppered throughout the story. It would have been one thing if events from the first book were referenced when mentioning Willing’s new-found abilities, but the book in no way provides any sort of backstory and the numerous cultures found in the novel all have languages left untranslated (quia, veir, isahresa, rijetzh, talveca, eht’shahala, etc etc). The only bit of help was a pronunciation guide for each language that was provided in the back at the book.
As someone who read a lot of fantasy novels growing up, I’m used to there being a distinct class system. In An Import of Intrigue, this is shown with hair color. You would never expect to see someone with blue hair doing the job of someone with green hair. This felt a little silly and childish to me. Even more absurd was Maresca’s very obvious inspiration for the cities and cultures in the novel. There’s a Middle Eastern-esque city along with one heavily Asian-based. That in itself is nothing new, but what rubbed me the wrong way was Maresca’s gung-ho attitude toward applying each and every stereotype he could think of (hey, as long as he’s using made-up names and terms, it’s not really racist, right?).
While I really did enjoy the central mystery in the novel – powerful, titled man is viciously murdered! – I had an extremely hard time following the rest of the book. Someone already familiar with this world and the events of the first book would have a much easier, and probably far more enjoyable, time than I did.