Cover Illustrator : Ursula Vernon
Rated : 9 Stars
There are a number of smells one expects to encounter in a dungeon.
–T. Kingfisher - Clockwork boys (The Clocktaur War) - c.2017
The Clocktaur War ; book 1
Any book by Ursula Vernon (aka T. Kingfihser) is one that I want to read, and as I back her on Patreon I have had access to this one for quite a while, I’m not sure why I didn’t get around to this one yet. Probably because I’m very very bad at checking in on Patreon. But now is the prefect time because a Vernon book is a great way to start the new year.
If you are familiar with fantasy role-playing1 then this story is like a fantasy quest with the knight, the assassin, the scholar, and the forger. But don’t let that make you think that this is a cliched stereptypical fantasy bit of nonsense, because it is a wonderful read.
Yes, it is a fantasy fiction adventure quest story with a ragtag bunch of adventurers out to save the world, or at least their city, from mysterious unstoppable forces, but it is the antidote to whiney mopey paladin-knights who sulk in guilt without any other qualities to allow the reader to empathise with them.
We start out the book meeting Slate. She is the main POV character, a forger and sneak. I guess the rogue character if I’m using role-playing analagies. She’s lived a life and learned a lot, she has a past, but doesn’t everyone? She’s a great narrator. She knows what she knows, she trusts herself and knows what she is capable of. She also a great sense of humour and a healthy disrespect for authority.
The other POV character is Sir Caliban, the paladin knight with the guilty conscience. But luckily he is much more than a whiney sulky hero. He was once a hero, one of the knights who fought off demons, who did what needed to be done. But then he found himself possessed and a murderer. Did it matter that it was the demon who killed those nuns? Well, yes, but he still wielded the weapons, and he must question what sin is in him that allowed the demon in. It is dead now, he hopes, but the decaying corpse still lingers in his mind.
I’ll let you think about that for a few minutes…
And in case you needed a little bit more body horror there is also the tattoo that’ll eat you if break your vow. Very useful for keeping criminals like forgers and assassins and murdering knights in line.
And yet it is told in such a wonderful style that you can’t help but enjoy it. Light-hearted swashbuckling fun was how Vernon described it at one stage, and it is, with added horrors. It is the perfect book for me.
Slate in particular I really enjoyed. She’s a great character and I loved her voice. Caliban too is wonderful, you get his sense of guilt, but there is more to him than just that.
The other characters don’t get quite so much development. Brenner is the assassin, he and Slate were once lovers, so they know each other well, and trust each other as much as either are able. But we don’t really get to know much about him, beyond the fact that he is an excellent assassin, but that he isn’t cruel or malicious. Its a business to him, killing people. And then there is the Learned Edmund, the scholar who knows very little about the world and even less about the “distaff sex”, but over the course of the book he begins to learn and develop a little.
The second book in the series is due in February, and originally it was meant to be all the one book so this ends a little abruptly, but at least I don’t have too long to wait to find out what happens our heroes. Personally, this is exactly the sort of fantasy adventure fiction that I really enjoy. In a way it reminded me a little of Jen Williams’ books, adventure quests with great characters, humour and a wonderfu story that makes you want to keep on reading until you come to the end. And then you still want more.
not that I’ve ever played it, but I’ve heard a lot about it ↩