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Books: Reviews: The mark of a good read; The Mark of Ran by Paul Kearney, Bantam Press. pounds 10.99. Reviewed by Paul Cooke.

Byline: Reviewed by Paul Cooke

Finally, a fantasy novel that lives up to the billing. More often than not, you read the blurb on the back of a novel and think that it should be a fantastic read.You get it home and about ten pages in you realise that you've been had. Not this time.

Paul Kearney's novel is every bit as good as it promises to be. The Mark of Ran is the first of a series entitled the Sea Beggars and it has the potential to be up there with the best of them.

Kearney has a number of novels under his belt, including The Way to Babylon, Riding the Unicorn and The Monarchies of God series. He seems to be carving out a niche in the fantasy world centered on naval derring-do. The Mark of Ran continues this theme, although it's not all sea and sails.

The story follows the exploits of Rol Cortishane who lives on the easternmost island of a large archipelago. Although Rol knows he is different from the other children of the island, it isn't until he witnesses a bloody battle between his family and local villagers, that Rol realises how different.

Fleeing the carnage, Rol takes to the sea, following his grandfather's final instructions. It is at points like this, out on the ocean wave, where Kearney's story telling is at its strongest.

You can almost smell the ozone and feel the wet ropes between your fingers.

Rol finally washes up at the port of Ascari on the island of Gascar, coming under the protective wing of Michal Psellos, an old acquaintance of Rol's grandfather. Psellos is an enigmatic character, and I'm still not sure I understand what exactly he was. Kearney paints him as part magician, part vampire and part svengali. This is another strength of this work, you can take nothing at face value and there are plenty of dark undercurrents working their way through the book.

On the move again, Rol takes to the sea once more, spending several years working his way through the ranks until he is second in command of a merchant ship. Heavy storms cause the ship to nearly sink and Rol and the remaining crew finally wash ashore on the isle of Bionar and are forced to march across a desert in order to reach the fabled pirate city of Ganesh Ka.

Following one final sea battle, the novel draws to a close with plenty of questions left unanswered. I shall be on the look out for the next instalment in what promises to be a cracking story.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 6, 2004
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