Shiv Kobodan is a travelling performer with a hundred talents and a morbid fascination with knives. Wandering from town to town for a lifetime on the trail of his own tragic and mysterious past, he stops briefly at a tiny village. The hamlet of Redlock has more than its fair share of secrets and dangers. Are his own secrets hidden there too?
Cameron S. Currie has been writing since sometime in elementary school in the late 1860's. He likes to read books by the bucketload, and is always working on his next book. His completed works include A Human Number and Depends on the Strength of the Yes, and a fantasy series (recently dubbed 'the Oubliette') that includes Shiv, My Name's Not Girl, Half an Ogre, and A Map of the Inner Skull. He recently published the long-awaited Starship Rumpelstiltskin, and is planning on releasing Hand to the Work, the fifth Oubliette novel, before the end of 2022.
This is my first fantasy novel, about the titular character, 'Shiv' Kobodan, a travelling one-man-show who has a morbid fascination with knives. First of what is now a trilogy, Shiv is a bit of a nonstandard fantasy book, in that there is no Dark Lord, and I am quite content in not trying to rip off Tolkien. That being said, there are a lot of the dwarves, elves, and goblins that come hand in hand with the genre. I like to think that style-wise, it resembles an old spaghetti western, only with more gnomes (a warning: the gnomes here pronounce the G. They don't mind if you don't, though, because that comes off as mildly racist), and a sprinkling of both comedy and horror.
When Shiv Kobodan arrives in Redlock, he plans to put on a knife show the likes of which these simple people have never seen before. However, Shiv's plans quickly go askew. It turns out Redlock is not the quaint town he thought it was, and he soon finds himself fighting a battle. He's joined by an interesting cast of fantastical heroes (and anti-heroes) like the whipsmart Doctor Unfriendly (a g'nome, mind your g's), the impressively strong (and stupid) Hammerhand brothers, and their much more capable sister Julia.
I thought this was a fun fantasy novel. Author Cameron S. Currie did an excellent job of creating a detailed setting. I particularly liked how each chapter started with an excerpt from Doctor Unfriendly's Comprehensive Guide to Everything. It's not the first time I've seen something like that, but it's something I always enjoy seeing. And it really shows how much time and attention Currie gave to the novel.
My one problem with the novel was the overall tone. I could never really figure out if Currie was going for drama or comedy. There were some intensely dramatic scenes; I mean, even the prologue has a traumatic event. And there were other scenes, like one chapter where Shiv is drugged and literally tied up and raped... and it's played as a joke. Yeah, not a kid's book anyway...
I also felt like some of the character motivations were questionable. I don't know why the Hammerhand brothers accosted Shiv when he first comes to town. Shiv does nothing strange or rude when he enters the bar. Is that just something the brothers always do? And why then does Baronet Falcior recruits a travelling performer? Because he beat up the Hammerhand brothers? That seems like a real flimsy reason to put the entire defence of a town in someone's hands. And later in the novel, Princess Temma says she needs a noble husband and then proposes marriage to Shiv... who is, again, a travelling performer. It makes no sense.
None of that bothered me, though. Why? Because Currie has a great imagination, and I think the story and adventure (especially when they're on that enchanted path) are fun. Some of the visuals, like a floating ship grown by trees instead of made by cut lumber, are really creative. I love that Shiv has all these knives, each other with a unique power, and the handspan armour was a really interesting addition. Overall, I really dug the Dungeon and Dragons inspiration. So yeah, I'd recommend this to any fantasy fan.
Fans of D&D style fantasy will probably enjoy Shiv, the story of Shiv Kobodan whose past is darkened by death; first the death of his parents, and then the folks of a circus who take him in, care for him, and teach him to be a knife thrower. On his journey in search of answers about his mysterious, tragic past, Shiv stops in the hamlet of Redlock to lend a hand to the folks in need and discovers there may be clues to his past there.
Love the character of Shiv. He’s one of those characters whose on a mission but always seems to be held up by other people’s needs, and he struggles to put his needs before theirs at times. He’s a good guy, when he’s not killing gnomes, which are pronounced with a g. This type of whimsical humour is laced throughout the book, especially with the quotes that introduce each of the chapters and expand on the world building in the story. This humour offsets some of the more intense, violent moments which involve his set of magical knives, each with their own unique power. (Must find me a set of those!)
While reading, I did have problems keeping track of the peripheral characters, and in some scenes there are a lot of characters and they felt a bit of a jumble. And just as I was starting to get a handle on some of them, Currie moves along in the narrative and introduces more, which makes each chapter or group of chapters feel episodic, like scenarios in a much broader campaign. Otherwise, Currie writes dialogue-heavy prose conveying interesting dialects, yet still manages to anchor the reader to the various settings with vivid description. If you like stories with classic fantasy characters and lots going on in them, definitely give Shiv a read.