Major Valentine Strange is a soldier of fortune with a rather sizable gambling debt, which is why he accepts a dubious commission from the church to retrieve powerful artifact from a monastery high up in the mountains far from the city of Hidush. To ensure his success, the Holy Order assigns Aleister Grimshaw, a powerful witch, to accompany Strange on his mission. Master Grimshaw has his own questionable past to live down.
The two men face several challenges, from other men, nature and the supernatural, but still manage to find the curiously fortress-like home to the small and ancient religious community that possesses the artifact, a diadem that once belonged to a god, or maybe not. But finding the diadem is only the start of the curious journey of Strange and Grimshaw.
“Strange Fortune” is set in a time and place somewhat reminiscent of India during British colonial times. There is, or was as a background to the time the book is set, a terrible clash of two cultures that resulted in an open rebellion in the lifetimes of our two main characters. While the setting is somewhat familiar, this is a fantasy where magic and witchcraft are very real, and entirely different things, apparently.
This is a difficult book to summarize in any detail without spoilers, but that’s rather typical of Lanyon. The plot is complicated, with lots of twists and turns that will keep you guessing. The two main characters, Strange and Grimshaw, are about as compatible as chalk and cheese, yet they’re drawn to each other, sometimes against their better judgement. As the point of view shifts between the two protagonists, it’s hard to get a firm bead on either character, especially Aleister, who vacillates between a smugness one takes as confidence and scared child.
In the end, it’s the intricate plot and solving the mystery - this is still Josh Lanyon, so while the setting is fantasy it’s still a mystery - that keeps you reading. It is a rather roller-coaster ride, although not as emotionally engaging as one might like.