This book positively sparkles with snappy dialogue as if it were a 1940s romantic comedy…but with swords, talking badger people and a possibly demonic bird.
We are back to the world of the Clockwork Boys, a few years on since the end of the Clocktaur wars. There are no shared characters but the shared fantasy setting relieves the story from having to spend time on additional world building. There are hints of broader trouble brewing but unlike the Clockwork Boys this is a less conventional fantasy quest.
Halla is a middle-aged woman whose troubles begin when she inherits a large amount of money — an event that leads her to being imprisoned by her relatives as they plot to marry her off or kill her. Enter a magic sword and the ancient swordsman trapped within: Sarkis of the Weeping Lands. The story takes Halla on a quest to get legal aid but with no shortage of encounters with religious fanatics, roadside brigands and semi-transparent jelly monsters.
Not unlike later Terry Pratchett works, the book is a very funny fantasy story but not a parody of fantasy stories. It knows and owns the fantasy tropes it uses and mines them for their funny and incongruous elements without being dismissive of them. The interplay of the two central characters is wonderful with delightful banter and sexual/romantic tension.
There are clever additions to the setting, in particular, the Order of the White Rat — a religious order that is basically a citizen’s advice bureau and pro bono lawyers. Sort of paladins or Templars but whose battlefield is court rooms and legal briefs. It is both a clever subversion (particularly given the previous book was focused on a demon hunting paladin) and makes perfect sense given the existing parameters of the setting.
There are darker elements, particularly as more of Sarkis’s past is revealed and the themes of coercion, gas-lighting and imprisonment of Halla by her relatives are an on-going sense of menace.
Yes, yes, I know most of the people who read this blog have probably bought this and read it already but you won’t be disappointed if you haven’t. 🙂