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Noir est le sceau de l'enfer de Jean-Laurent…
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Noir est le sceau de l'enfer (edició 2022)

de Jean-Laurent Del Socorro

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Membre:TechThing
Títol:Noir est le sceau de l'enfer
Autors:Jean-Laurent Del Socorro
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Noir est le sceau de l'enfer de Jean-Laurent Del Socorro

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A little warning: The setting is still the French Wars of Religion. 'Noir est le sceau de l'enfer' is a prequel novella that is set a few years (anno 1593) after 'La Guerre des trois rois'. You can read it as a stand-alone story, but it makes a little more sense when you've read the other books, too. In addition, a pen-and-paper role-playing game was developed around it. The scenario and rules are included in the book, are set up for any kind of player, new or experienced.

Once more my advice about the books: From a personal point of view, I would recommend that you start with 'Royaume de vent et de colères'. If for some reason, you do start with 'Du Roi je serai l'assassin', then read the "main" novel afterwards.

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While not a series like your classical kind of sagas, the stories are related and only two can be read on their own: 'Royaume de vent et de colères' (2017) and 'Du Roi je serai l'assassin' (2021).

01) Royaume de vent et de colères (the novel that started it all) (my review o/t omnibus)
02) Le Vert est éternel (short story, available online and in the omnibus edition of 'Royaume...') (my review)
03) La Guerre des trois rois (prequel to 'Royaume...') (my review)
04) Du Roi je serai l'assassin (prequel to 'Royaume...') (my review)
05) Noir est le sceau de l'enfer ("sort of stand-alone" prequel novella, set a few years after 'La Guerre des trois rois')

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Publication order, maybe the best order to follow (in my humble opinion):

01) Royaume de vent et de colères (first: 2016)
02) Le Vert est éternel (first: 2017)
03) La Guerre des trois rois (first: 2020)
04) Du Roi je serai l'assassin (first: 2021)
05) Noir est le sceau de l'enfer (first: 2022)

Possible, alternative reading order:

04) Du Roi je serai l'assassin
01) Royaume de vent et de colères
02) Le Vert est éternel
03) La Guerre des trois rois
05) Noir est le sceau de l'enfer

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In this newest episode, the leading role was given to Axelle, head of the Company of the Chariot. While she and her band would be free after the mission in 'La Guerre des trois rois', it seems Henry IV wasn't so keen on having her and her companions around. Or rather, it was the lieutenant-general of Brittany, an ally of Henry IV, who, with help of English soldiers, would launch a surprise-attack on the Catholic League, for whom the Company of the Chariot was undertaking a mission to Laval. The Company of the Chariot were taken prisoner after the attack.

They would be locked up in the dungeons of Saint-Michel in Rennes, France. Agnès de Loignac is still lieutenant of the Forty-Five, which were the personal guard of Henry III. Strangely enough, it seems these guards and their lieutenant were now serving Henry IV. Agnès de Loignac was also the one who hired Axelle and her Company, yet now suspects them from having assisted in the assassination of Henry III, her former master. Axelle and her company would regain their freedom, if she accepted the deal that Agnès de Loignac proposed.

* Objective: To bring back an important, magical object, the 'Sceau de l'enfer' or 'Seal of Hell' (seal like symbol, emblem, ... not the animal). It's a mirror with magical powers, created from a special kind of stone from Roanoke Island (USA). Attentive readers will know that Roanoke Island played an important role in the American Civil War, based on which Mr Del Socorro wrote his magnum opus 'Je suis fille de rage' (my review).
* Location: London, England, in the workshop/manor of John Dee, the royal astrologer.
* Contacts: Francis Drake (seafarer, expert in circumnavigation, helped England with fending off the Spanish armada, ...) and Christopher Marlowe, English playwright and poet, who worked under the orders of Thomas Walsingham of Queen Elisabeth I's private Council.

However, the Private Council of Queen Elisabeth I also wishes to lay its hands upon the mirror, as it was never destroyed, despite earlier statements by John Dee himself. It was the British Crown who gave the order for the Seal of Hell to be brought back to England.

This new novella takes us back to London (and Ireland) in the 16th century (like Deptford Strand), to the colonisation of America by the British (Roanoka Island plays a key role here), but Ireland also comes into the spotlight, not just a few cities, but also Queen Gráinne O'Malley. Furthermore, you'll learn a few things about Francis's undertakings, William Shakespeare, Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell and many other historical facts and characters of the British empire.

Finding and acquiring the mirror would not be an easy task. Even if the manor was not guarded, there were staff members. Still, John Dee had taken his magical precautions against unauthorised intrusion. Axelle's and Francis's experiences and skills helped them escape. A little too easy, I'd say, but if they hadn't, the rest of the story would not have been possible or looked totally different.

Marlowe, their contact, played several roles (official and unofficial), but why had Francis Drake (loyal to the British Crown) agreed on acting against it? The Seal of Hell (Sceau de l'enfer) comes from Roanoka Island. It's made of Artbon, which was also used in 'La Guerre des trois rois'. Artbon is a resource, a type of stone, that was dug up on Roanoka Island and considering its characteristics, it's called "Sceau de l'enfer", "Artbon", "sel noir" (black salt). It wasn't Francis Drake himself, but through his compatriots on Roanoka Island that he transported by ship the stone to England. It wasn't until John Dee that the stone's magical powers would be known and unleashed first against the Spanish armada. With terrible consequences for the Spanish.

Meeting with Marlowe would prove to be difficult (The Council would have found out about Marlowe's double role, sent men to punish him for his treason, i.o.w. take him out), but fortunately Eleanor Bull would help Axelle and Francis complete their mission. The link with Britain's colonial history (Roanoka Island) would continue to play a role, as another person would be of vital importance regarding the Seal of Hell: John White, former colony governor, artist and more. For that, Axelle and Francis would have to set sail to Ireland with the help of Gráinne O'Malley, queen of Ireland.

Our duo would ultimately find John White, who would give account of his stay in Roanoka Island and the Seal of Hell (Sceau de l'enfer). And when you think all is said and done regarding this political intrigue, Walter Raleigh (coloniser) cunningly shows up to secure the mirror and explain the matter like it truly happened. School of Night, played an important role in the finding and capturing of the Sceau de l'enfer / Seal of Hell, albeit from behind the scenes.

And so the circle is round. Axelle and her Company of the Chariot would once more be free, until the continuing Wars of Religion would cause her to abandon her inn, La Roue de Fortune (The Wheel of Fortune), and turn her life upside down again. No rest for the wicked.

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With 'Noir est le sceau de l'enfer', Jean-Laurent Del Socorro fills the small gap, chronologically, between 'La Guerre des trois rois' and 'Royaume de vent et de colères' (the novel that started it all). While not as intricate as the novels, this novella offers another entertaining visit in this historical setting about which the last word hasn't been written.

Is 'Noir est le sceau de l'enfer' the last story in this setting, in the context of the French Wars of Religion? Quite unlikely, as Axelle's last words indicate: "...mon intuition me souffle que je n'en ai pas fini avec l'École de la nuit et ses secrets." (transl.: ...my intuition tells me that I'm not done with that School of Night and its secrets)

Through little details - characters, events, etc. - you cannot do otherwise but read everything published so far. It's a bit like, but different from, the books of Guy Gavriel Kay, at least those set in his Near-Europe universe and of which a few are directly linked: 'A Brightness Long Ago', 'Children of Earth and Sky', and 'All the Seas of the World'. Without forgetting the duology 'The Sarantine Mosaic'. Or the recent trilogies (the last two books appearing in 2023) of Guillaume Chamanadjan and Claire Duvivier: 'Capital du Sud' and 'Capital du Nord', which form the 'Cycle de la Tour de Garde'.

Can you read this novella on its own? In a way, yes, but like 'La Guerre des trois rois', you need foreknowledge of the context for a more interesting and complete reading experience. Actually, it's never complete, as there are new, historical references that can be used to write novels or novellas about.

As I don't play RPGs, I can't really comment on that part of the book, as interesting as it looks and as accessibly explained as possible; again, this is for any kind of player: new or experienced. My main interest lies in the story itself, as a complement to those already published. ( )
  TechThing | Dec 4, 2022 |
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