Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.
I didn't know what to expect from Matthew Hughes, especially considering I've heard some of his work compared to Jack Vance (for the record, I'm honestly not fond of the Dying Earth stories).
In the first few pages however, I was immediately enthralled. Much of the conflict and tense situations revolves around dialogue and Hughes knows how to effectively utilize them to draw readers in. This is one of those books that gets off to a quick start and little time is wasted on unnecessary details that don't push the plot forward. I didn't have a concrete image of the world in which Majestrum takes place although I was aware of the generalities and implications (i.e. multiple worlds).
What I really liked about the book was its combination of mystery and science fiction/fantasy elements. Perhaps the most memorable work that's similar is Roger Zelazny's Amber series but Majestrum takes a different approach while possessing the same vibe. In fact, what will hook readers 'til the end is most likely its mystery aspect.
Aside from that, another highlight is the protagonist's personality. Henghis Hapthorn, while a talented "discriminator" (i.e. detective), is not without flaws and Hughes conveys this all throughout the novel. He is a flawed, even arrogant, hero which makes him fun to read in the sense that readers are aware he'll be running into danger sooner rather than later.
As for the Vance comparison, Hughes's simplicity of language appeals to me more than Vance ever did. The author however has at least two tributes to Vance. One is the naming convention of magic items and spells, which is clearly Vancian. The other--which I think plays a bigger role in the novel--is the atmosphere Vance managed to capture. Majestrum takes place in a world that is at the brink of a major transition and there is something both bleak and optimistic about that fact. Hughes succeeds in capturing that feeling of wonder and dread while sprinkling compelling conflict all throughout.
Majestrum is recommended if you're looking for that adventure-mystery hybrid that's full of fun and excitement yet different from the usual sword & sorcery fare. Hughes successfully juggles tribute and originality while still telling a compelling story in his own unique style.