An Overview of the Lord Darcy Stories


I’ve just fininished re-reading the Lord Darcy stories in my collection. For those of you who have not read them, they are set in an alternative world where Richard Plantagenet survived his crossbow bolt wound in 1199 but was changed by his brush with death, gave up Crusading and devoted the rest of his life (twenty years) to ruling England and its feudal fiefs. He outlived his brother John (who still died in 1216) and was succeeded by their nephew Arthur. Arthur’s direct descendant rules as John IV.

The other major difference is that magic actually works – the Laws of Similarity, Contagion etc. are actual laws of nature. The study of magic began in the fourteenth century and remains under the control of the Church. The Reformation has never taken place – there do not appear to be any Protestant Churches – but prsumably Martin Luther still lived as one of John IV’s titles is “Defender of the Faith”.

There are huge poltical and social differences. John IV rules an Angevin Empire consisting of England, Scotland, Ireland and France (Wales is not mentioned – presumably it is considered to be part of England as it was in our medieval history). He is Overlord of New England and New France (North and South America) and Holy Roman Emperor (of the Italian states and some of the Geman states). The Emperor’s power in Italy is quite limited, real power rests with the Parliament in Rome and the Imperial Viceroy.

New England and New France are divided into feudal Duchies as is Europe but Native American culture has survived better than it has in our world and Native Americans have as much a say in government as do Europeans. The Duke of Mechico is a Native American, for example. The situation is somewhat analogous to India and South Africa in our world, which have adopted some aspects of European culture as a result of colonialism but the original culture still exists.

Africa and Asia are barely mentioned, presumably the Empire has no colonies there. The other major Euopean power is the Polish Hegemony whose imperial expansion has been at the expense of the disunited Russian states. The German states act as a buffer between the two Great Powers.

The Byzantine Empire still exists ( A naval treaty between the two Empires is a plot element of “The Sixteen Keys” and “The Napoli Express”. This is rather ulikely in a world whose history splits from ours in 1199. By then the Byzantine Empire was already in serious decline and there is no reason to suppose that Richard’s survival would have prevented the disastrous Fourth Crusade in 1204. It was the sack of Constantinople and the subsequent dismembering of the Empire by the Crusaders that pretty much ended the Empire as a going concern.

Both the Empire and the Hegemony retain medieval social structures even though the stories take place in an alternative 1960s/70s – the Kings have real power. Both are subdivided into Duchies and the Dukes have considerable power with their borders. It is implied that the Hegemony is more centralised and even less democratic than the Empire. The Empire-Hegomony rivalry is clearly the Cold War of that world. Women, however, appear to have more rights than in medieval times. Mary de Cumberland (in “Too Many Magicians”) is clearly no more answerable for her actions than is a man and one scene she dinks beer in a pub with another woman which is clearly not considered worthy of comment – I am told this was most certainly not the case in the UK in the 1960s.

Technology lags somewhat behind our world, there are (steam) trains but no aircraft. Science is largely the study of magic and psychology. The physical sciences are neglected – dismissed as “materialism” which has about the same academic status as does parapsychology in our world. To my mind, this is an inconsistancy. In our world, it was the development of steam technology and attempts to inprove its efficiency, which led to the discovery of the Laws of Thermodynamics. Since steam engines do exist, thermodynamics would have been established and the physical sciences would have a higher status.

The stories themselves are murder mysteries, solved by Lord Darcy (Chief Investigator of the Duchy of Normandy) ably assisted by the forensic sorcorer Sean O Lochlain. Because the magic of this world is governed by natural laws, it is not a “get-out-of-jail-free” (or indeed a “put-perps-in-jail”) card. The locked room murder in “Too Many Magicians” cannot be explained by magic. Magic can provide some facts in much the same way as forensic science can provide facts in our world but a detective still needs to use his brain to make sense of them.

At first sight Darcy and O Lochlain are Holmes and Watson figures but the analogy does not hold up on close examination: like Sherlock Holmes, Darcy prides himself on his deductive powers but – as O Lochlain observes – his thinking is often intuitive and he fills in the logical steps after the fact. O Lochlain is no Watson either. Although he is impressed by Darcy’s skills as a detective he is not in awe of him. Also, his knowledge of magic and its Laws are often crucial in solving the case.

The stories often contain references to other detective fiction. The conclusions are often Agatha Christie style; Darcy gathers the potential suspects together and explains his deductions that reveal the killer – or goad the killer into revealing himself. “The Napoli Express” is an obvious reference to “Murder on the Orient Express” but the conclusion is very different – athough one of the suspects advances the “Orient Express” solution to the murder. In this story Darcy is travelling incognito disguised as a priest named Armand Brun!



Lord Darcy stories in the magazines. This list may not be complete, it isjust the ones I have in my collection:


The Muddle of the Woad appeared in Analog, June 1965

Too Many Magicians appeared in Analog, August – November 1966

A Matter of Gravity appeared in Analog, October 1974

The Sixteen Keys appeared in Fantastic, May 1976

The Ipswich Phial appeared in Analog, December 1976

The Bitter End appeared in IASFM, September/October 1978

The Napoli Express appeared in IASFM, April 1979

Events in The Napoli Express take place immediately after those in The Sixteen Keys.

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