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First a warning. This is a series. I did not know that going in and got to the end immediately wanting the next book, which won't be released for a whFirst a warning. This is a series. I did not know that going in and got to the end immediately wanting the next book, which won't be released for a while. Darn!
The second warning is that I'd call this character-driven literary speculative fiction, which I devoured happily, but if one is expecting a fast-paced adventure they might be disappointed. I actually appreciate when authors take the time to introduce their worlds and characters via poetic language, so it was the perfect kind of book for my own tastes.
I wavered between 4 - 4.5 stars. What I love most of all is the fabulous world building. Twists on what has come before in the fantasy genre. At times poignant and at times brutal, it's a world where intelligent, self-aware beasts are second-class citizens, often enslaved, and a civil war is brewing between the beasts (and their supporters) and those who would exploit them. (Though a very small part of the story, I really liked how faeries were portrayed. Some would lay eggs inside other beings that would hatch and devour their host, and some were more like pesky houseflies.)
The world was diverse, complex, and complete with its geography, politics, social classes, etc. I was entirely transported.
The biggest challenge I had was with Bella Kanto, Tabat's most famous gladiator. Although I appreciated that the fiercest Gladiator was a bisexual female, I found her difficult to relate to due to her extreme vanity. I don't mind cocky or irreverent or confident, but it was a bit unrelenting and often resulting in petulant/puerile behavior. Although, I do want to say that as more of her backstory was revealed, I grew to understand and empathize with her more and more. I also thought her story was really just beginning as I got to the end, and I can see the arc her redemption might take in future books. I look forward to journeying with her through this.
I found the other character, Teo, a village boy who runs away and searches for his hero (Bella) while living on the streets of Tabat, to be quite sympathetic. Richly drawn, his innocence is his downfall in the big city. A few of the incidents surrounding him seemed a bit random, but I have the feeling all will be revealed as the story continues.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I’d place this somewhere between 3 - 3.5 stars. Definitely give the book a chance if y I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
I’d place this somewhere between 3 - 3.5 stars. Definitely give the book a chance if you like quick-paced children’s sword and sorcery fiction and/or twists on King Arthur / Knights of the Round Table / Camelot stories.
I had mixed feelings about this book myself. On the one hand, it’s a fairly clean and quick-paced read, and it begins in a whimsical manner with enough plot to keep me reading, though at first I was confused about the humorous tone, b/c the cover image suggested a more serious quest story. None-the-less, when I adjusted my expectations, I got into the humour of it easily enough and began to enjoy it for its silliness (like the premise that it was illegal for all but the Knights of the Round Table to do any good deeds, so the rest of the knights are reduced to stacking cheese and chasing crows for people).
It’s a story for those who like to root for a good-hearted underdog. Leonard (Page to a very mediocre Knight) is plenty likable, especially in his loyalty to his mediocre Knight.
Part-way through the story, however, it turned fairly dark, including visits from hellhounds, a demon from hell, and a lot of death and violence. Most of the death wasn’t overly graphic, told about rather than shown, but there were a few parts I thought might be disturbing to younger readers, including a portion where evil creatures are literally hacked apart.
My issue with the violence was less about age-appropriateness, though, and more about it being incongruous with the established tone and writing style. It led to some of the darker moments being treated too casually. Then again, I tend not to take deaths of characters very lightly. Especially the deaths of sympathetic characters. You can make bad guy deaths a bit cartoonish and get away with it.
This may be a personal preference and other readers might not have this issue. I did have the same issue with the book Wildwood by Colin Meloy, during which one of the main characters killed some innocent people and suffered nothing for it.
Too me, this story’s early style and tone suggest a lower middle grade read, for a slightly younger audience than is usually my preference. I’m not a big fan of the majority of characters being “all evil” or “all good” and morality being so black and white. These are characteristics of lower middle grade fiction and many people (including adults) are quite fond of this target reading level. But even though it's not my preferred reading level, I tried to look at the story through that lense and read/enjoy it for those particular characteristics.
(Middle grade literature is generally defined as geared toward the 8 to 12 year old reader. But kids are 8 yrs old when they enter 3rd grade and 12 yrs old when they enter 7th grade. That’s a pretty large reading discrepancy, so many authors refer to their books as “lower middle grade” or “upper middle grade.”)
In lower middle grade literature, there is less grey area between right and wrong, time and distance can be truncated to move the story, and characters can be less complex (there is not much internal angst), even cartoonish and thus less “believable” (which is different than “realistic” – fantasy is inherently unrealistic, but complex characters are more believable). My personal preference is toward upper middle grade fiction because I like that moral grey area.
So, although a quick, fairly enjoyable read, I found the characters a bit 2-dimensional for my tastes, some of the dialogue a bit clunky (especially the brownie's speech), the deaths treated too casually, and an inconsistency of tone.