A writer I’ve recently discovered, Andy Peloquin, has introduced me to yet another genre I didn’t know existed and took me a great ride doing so.
Book 1: Child of the Night Guild
Not only did this book introduce me to the world of the Night Guild, its city Praamis, Viola in all of her forms—but also to Audiobooks.
Okay, I tried one audiobook a while back and never made it past 10 minutes. Sorry Paulo Coelho, that just wasn’t working.
This book, though, found me sitting on my couch listening for long stretches, with my wife looking on curiously. Me sitting on the couch, staring at the wall, getting pulled into the world of Praamis, the Night Guild, and the story of Viola’s transformation into 7 and finally emerging as Ilana.
This has changed my opinion of audiobooks from being a mere curiosity to being something I dig. Mind you, I don’t drive, nor commute, so I had to carve out time to listen.
And this was worth it.
Not only has this book reintroduced me to a format I’d left for dead, but to a completely unknown genre:
Grimdark Swords and Sorcery Fantasy Thief Adventure
Mouthful ain’t it?
Now, I’ve heard of Grimdark (Grim Dark also) but didn’t know what it means, precisely†. I did cut my teeth on Swords and Sorcery & Fantasyback in the 70s and 80s, and Thief Adventure sounds close to Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, a Swords and Sorcery favorite of mine.
But all together?
Never heard of such a thing.
But, what the hell, I decided to give it a go.
The plot and tropes are recognizable but avoid the cliché and remain fresh: Peloquin presents a young girl forced into a cut-throat thief community along with other young ones. Much like the premise of The Lies of Locke Lamora, another book of young thieves, I had a blast reading. Quickly, one feels at home in the storyline. The lone person, without a friend or any help in a merciless situation, a new world in which she must figure out a way to survive. She runs afoul of a villainous fellow “Tyro,” 12, later named Sabat and builds up friendships. Yet as in anything described as Grim or Dark, these friendships don’t usually turn out so well. Some friends fail despite how hard she and they try. The rest are scattered throughout the Night Guild—an association one can liken to an elaborate Mafia with various specialties built on individual skills.
Ilana’s a Hawk, a second-story woman.
As she negotiates this vicious world, she overcomes minor as well as serious adversity to be accepted as one of only a few girls in the whole of the Night Guild.
The world of her and the other apprentices’ education, the many trials and tests of skills all work well. She struggles. Nothing is given to her, making her a character one really roots for. It makes her losses deeper, including seeing old friends she’d known only as numbers and how far they have fallen.
Sabat constantly harasses her, hating that she’s a girl in this testosterone-driven world.
Her few new friends, including an older Hawk, Denber help her as she plots an impossible task to prove her worth in the Night Guild.
Despite of the many trials and ordeals in this world, young love unexpectedly blossoms with Ethen and is handled quite well—subtly, believably, and raising stakes as the story develops.
Near the end of this first volume of three, she must complete that impossible task for her to prove she belongs in the Night Guild. Her young beau makes a poor decision. And she must finally face Sabat, the boy, now a young man, who has harassed her for years.
<spoiler>Though I might have left him a eunuch too embarrassed to return, plotting revenge at this ultimate humiliation—she still gives us something we relish and the moment is satisfying. </spoiler> (Am I actually Grimdark? Hmmm.)
Even so, there is plenty more danger to move the story along into the next volume: Thief of the Night Guild.
Bottom line: I had a damned good time and am looking forward to Ilana’s continuing adventures.
So, what about the Audiobook, proper?
It is narrated by Rebecca McKernan, who has a number of titles to her credit, which tells you she’s a pro.
She doesn’t merely read, she acts—enough.
Different voices for different characters, including boys and girls. Mostly boys in this story, but that she’s a woman does not distract in the least. She does a variety of accents and voices, distinctive enough I was able to tell who was speaking, merely by the way she spoke. That’s an unexpected advantage of this format.
In all, she does a solid job all the way through.
Of course, it does depend on how much one likes the words interpreted for you—how plaintive, or arrogant someone sounds delivering a given line.
Something I still have to get entirely used to. I know actors do this on stage and screen all the time, but I’m still getting used to it. Like those radio plays of yore, like the Shadow. But thankfully no sound fx here.
Other Adventures with Andy
As said above, Peloquin has already introduced me to a genre I didn’t know existed, Military Fantasy. I gave my thoughts about his Shields in Shadow novel here:
Military Fantasy, Whoda Thunk?
I have read one other of his works, another grimdark piece called Life for a Life. That’s free if you join his mailing this, which I did, of course, to get it. You might check out his site and see if you’d like this slim volume @ Andy Peloquin.
If this sounds like something you might like, definitely check it out.
† Grimdark fantasy is a sub-genre of fantasy that revolves around stories that are thematically both grim (in terms of setting and world-building) and dark (in terms of style and characterization). There tends to be an emphasis on realism in the grimdark genre, even when set in a fantastical world. (Thanks to the Azrian Portal)
What’s This to do With Me?
Now, what I write isn’t Grimdark. I actually have to mind being too nice. But people do get killed in Walking the Darkmaker’s Way, and there are strong elements of realism in it. But, it’s neither Grim nor Dark, per se, even if it shares features. My stuff leans more High Fantasy, Moorcock, Leiber, and Donaldson. If that sounds like something you’d like to check out, I have a sample of the prequel novella right below:
Part one of Walking the Darkmaker’s Way
This part is 17 pages, no big commitment: if you dig it, the other 120+ are available. Just ask. Or join the FB Group:
A casual Facebook group where I post updates, early look sample, and it has links to all of Walking the Darkmaker’s Way. It’ll also have The Book of Visions once I’ve completed the rewrite.