Rob continues to stretch his writer’s muscles with this next installment in the series. While the prior book was fantasy-thriller, this was fantasy-action adventure. We’re also treated to a compelling courtroom drama, a who-done-it mystery, one heist-genre theft after another, and some swashbuckling picaresque characters that recall a good Robert Luis Stevenson novel. It should seem like a genre-bender, but strangely all this mayhem seems to fit solidly within the fantasy genre. I doubt a less accomplished writer could have pulled off the synthesis with the same aplomb.
Kal holds on to a youthful spirit and a simple, straight forward nature, befitting her age, and contrasts well against this world rife with complex but ultimately unpalatable characters whose fecund natures make them ripe enough to explode from the gaseous buildup of all their internal rot. A heroine with a honest, says-what-she-means nature gives us an anchor to hold onto, what’s more, so we’re not entirely adrift amidst all the political intrigue and corruption; there’s enough of it that it’s hard not to feel, well, like we’re living in the present day. The author even managed to pull off a one liner to the effect of “it may be a snake pit, but at least these are democratic vipers!” I haven’t stopped laughing yet. Hopefully the fantasy context of the story will thus help the reader process some of his or her distaste for gridlocked government in the here and now.
My only real sticking points with this installment were, firstly, that it took me a while to adjust into the more leisurely pace coming off of the thriller pacing of the prior novel. It actually seemed slow by comparison, at least at times, until I reminded myself, there really is a lot going on here, there’s just a different tone to the writing, and the nature of the tension is different. Secondly, some social issues are raised but never fully examined. For instance, gnomes are being used as servants in the city; this time and place’s idea of racism and discrimination. But there’s never any back story to contextualize this. There are a lot of causes for social unrest in the city of Amaranthium beyond this one. But again, they’re treated more as background noise than fully developed themes that tie into and drive the plot. A thicker, more robust-sized novel might have given the author the page count to justify building out these secondary story threads better. But it’s hard to fault a guy for trying to make a living in ebook land where it’s desperately difficult to get someone to pay more than 2.99 for an ebook, and thus harder to justify the extra page count, at least until attitudes change. And, well, in the final analysis, none of it seems to get in the way of the fun.