A well-done bit of Weird West with a likeable protagonist.
This is America (Kansas, to be exact) in a world in which most people have magic, arcane-po...moreA well-done bit of Weird West with a likeable protagonist.
This is America (Kansas, to be exact) in a world in which most people have magic, arcane-powered transports replace the horses they're modeled on, and Native American magic is strong enough that the USA stops at the Rockies. The eponymous Peacemaker (think US Marshal) brings his magic, his staff and his familiar (a cute jackalope named Ernst) to the town of Hope, where he has to deal with a Bad Wealthy Rancher.
I give that last phrase capitals because he's a trope, one of a number of tropish characters. The friendly saloonkeeper (who's Scottish), the helpful general store owner, the grumpy blacksmith (who's Swedish), the schoolmarm, the kid who's running a bit wild but has potential, the mysterious old Indian shaman. They do come through as individuals, though, not just chess pieces or cardboard cutouts (and, after all, there are a limited number of roles you can have in a Western).
The protagonist is the Wounded Veteran, something he struggles with through the course of the book, though it helps rather than hinders him when the chips are down. He fought for the Union in the Civil War and lost a chunk of his power, as well as gaining a nasty scar. He seems to have plenty of power left, though.
Although it doesn't break new ground particularly, this story puts a fun spin on some beloved tropes, and is told fluently and engagingly. It's well-edited; I found only six minor typos, which, if you follow my reviews, you'll know is a small number (I often get into double figures even with traditionally-published books). At the end is an excerpt from another series, an urban fantasy which I'll probably track down.
I do love a good rogue, and this book offers one. Though let down a little by editing issues and a lot by the female characters, overall it was enjoya...moreI do love a good rogue, and this book offers one. Though let down a little by editing issues and a lot by the female characters, overall it was enjoyable and well-written if I overlooked those factors.
Editing issues first. It's written in a literate, intelligent style, which makes the problems that much more vexing. There are only a few, but they are pervasive.
Firstly, apostrophe placement in phrases like "servants' entrance" and "merchants' quarter". I've just given the correct placements (since the entrance is used by more than one servant, and there is more than one merchant in the quarter), but the author writes "servant's entrance" and "merchant's quarter". Other examples: bandit's horses, peoples' stomachs (an overcorrection; "people" is what the stomachs belonged to, so it should be "people's"), guard's sashes, brother's knives, owner's food stocks, Ancestor's magic, visitor's menials, neighbor's houses. In all those cases, the noun was plural and so the apostrophe should be after the s. The apostrophe is also missed out of "four months' travel" (you wouldn't say "one month travel" but "one month's travel").
Then there's the almost completely consistent use of "affect" where it should be "effect" (both the verb and noun versions). There's also "poured" for "pored" in one place. "Laying" for "lying" may just be part of the voice of the first-person narrator, though I suspect it's another error by the author.
A number of sentences also change grammatical direction or tense partway through, there are missing minor words like "of" occasionally, and there are several dangling participles ("A professional dancer, I had first set eyes on Tarsha..." - where Tarsha, not the speaker, is the dancer).
It's not like there's an error on every page. I marked about 40 (some of them the same ones repeated), and this is a long book. With very rare exceptions, commas are in the right place, too. But there are enough errors that I found them annoying and distracting from the story.
The story itself is a classic piece of sword-and-sorcery, in which a rogue, accompanied reluctantly by a fighter, goes on a quest to steal an object desired by a wizard. There's the old "I've poisoned you and you have to come back to me for the antidote" trope. The hero collects an accidental, troubling, but highly useful superpower seemingly at random in the course of the adventure.
Does it rise above the tropes? It does, though not all that high at times, and there are a couple of tropes that troubled me more, the ones around the female characters. We have three: The selfish and mercenary seducer/whore/betrayer; the Woman in a Refrigerator, who exists only as a male character's motivation; and the mute (the male protagonists observes that at least she doesn't chatter like other women) who is always crying, devoted to the protagonist for no obvious reason, and annoyingly dependent, though she is surprisingly, and indeed unexplainedly, competent with a crossbow at a couple of moments when that's useful. I'm aware that the author is herself a woman, but these are not promising female characters, to me. In fact, they're a worry. This lost an otherwise enjoyable book its fourth star from me.
The protagonist/narrator is a rogue, and so we expect him not to necessarily be a nice guy (though he tries not to kill people if he can help it). His desire not to become emotionally entangled is understandable, and he protests too much of not caring, so we suspect that he cares more than he lets on... though sometimes it does actually seem like he doesn't care, that the act isn't an act, and at those moments he isn't a very likeable character and I, in turn, don't care quite as much what happens to him.
What does happen to him involves a lot of pain and suffering, as is, again, usual for this type of character in this type of book. When that happens to Locke Lamora, or even Eli Monpress, it means something. Here, it's just another trope. (less)
Diana Wynne Jones has a wonderfully whimsical ability to worldbuild (of which J.K. Rowling should be jealous). Books with magic in are slowly tending...moreDiana Wynne Jones has a wonderfully whimsical ability to worldbuild (of which J.K. Rowling should be jealous). Books with magic in are slowly tending to become more technological (as our technology becomes more magical, perhaps, or maybe it's just because of games in which magic has to be "balanced"); there are clear rules for what can and can't be done. This author was writing before that trend, or ignored it, and her magic is like the magic of folktales. It works because it ought to work, because having it work that way is cool.
She was also writing before "head-hopping" (switching between third-person viewpoints in the middle of a scene) became so denigrated, and a couple of times it's disorientating. Her style is the simple, declarative style of books for younger readers, but there's nothing wrong with that, though if I'd been her editor I would have said "show, don't tell" a couple of times and suggested more active phrasings for a few sentences. The writing, in other words, isn't flawless, but the story, the characters and especially the world make up for it.
The main viewpoint character is a boy known as Cat, for reasons that, when explained, turn out to be very important. He's afflicted with a sister named Gwendolen, who is as self-centred as a gyroscope and reacts badly to being thwarted, causing a cascade of trouble for poor Cat. By the middle of the book he's in not just one, but four or five bad situations, with no solution in sight, and all of them are Gwendolen's fault.
The secondary characters are delightful. The powerful Chrestomanci, in particular, with his beautiful clothes, is like a less self-centred Howl, but each one of them has some characteristic of appearance or mannerism that makes them distinct and memorable.
This is the first of a series of six books, and I'll be reading the others too, I think. (less)
I haven't read any of this author's books before, so this 99c novella acted as an introduction. It's good enough that I'll probably look for some more...moreI haven't read any of this author's books before, so this 99c novella acted as an introduction. It's good enough that I'll probably look for some more, though it's not my new favourite.
The premise: it's a liminal fantasy (this world and a world of magic become connected, and the story takes place on the borderland where magic and technology mix). The dragon defeated by St George was not killed, but reduced in power, and is now working as a noirish PI along with a magic-using nun, basically earning his powers back by doing good works. (The author is Catholic, and so is the dragon.)
It's a premise with a combination of well-worn and fresh elements, and overall it worked for me.
The language: The book is generally well-written and the standard of editing is high, with only a couple of typos, impressive in an indie book.
The characters: Vern, the dragon and first-person POV character, is convincingly both a dragon and a noir PI. He values his partner the nun very highly (in this story, she's injured early on and functions mainly as a motivator for his actions, but I would expect that in the series in general she has a more active role), and is, on the whole, a decent being trying to do the right thing. In part, this is because he can regain some of his dragon abilities by doing so, but it also seems to be heartfelt.
The secondary characters are not very developed, inevitably in a novella. They're one step above cardboard cliches, with at least a sense of being individuals, even if that individuality isn't fully explored.
The plot: it's a fairly standard McGuffin plot straight out of the noir playbook. There's an untrustworthy dame who hires Vern, an untrusting policeman who reluctantly works with him, all the usual stuff, plus the danger-to-the-partner subplot. At novella length, plots are usually not that complicated, and this is no exception.
I felt the eventual resolution was a bit of a cheat, since if it was something that would have worked I would expect it to be a known solution already, rather than the spur-of-the-moment improvisation it's presented as. That's what lost the story the fourth star. It made good emotional and symbolic sense but bad logical sense, and to me, a resolution should be both emotionally satisfying and also plausible.
I liked the matter-of-fact, non-preachy incorporation of a living faith into the lives of the characters, and was impressed by the standard of the editing, but if this is to be a favourite series I'll be looking for more depth and greater plausibility in other stories.(less)