Both of these short stories, set in Michael J. Sullivan’s fantasy series “The Riyria Chronicles,” are available separately and are currently free on Audible UK.
They are both gems, and they compelled me after listening to buy the first volume of the Riyria Chronicles.
‘The Thief’ is a fantasy archetype used in fantasy literature and gaming. Their skill-set usually includes stealth and lock-picking, usually framed in a rouge’s exterior but (sometimes) grounded nevertheless with a moral sense.
Here all of the above would be true, but from these two short stories I felt I got to know the characters very well, as they are so well drawn. It helps that there is a lot of humour, fresh, funny, character driven and enriching to the story, but not the familiar satire you would expect from Terry Pratchett (God rest his soul) and his imitators.
The protagonists are Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater, a team of two thieves for hire in a world of traps, dungeons, treachery, and feuding lords and kingdoms. In “The Jester” we are introduced to our heroes and other protagonists in mid plummet as they find themselves on the wrong end of a trap. It’s a wonderful opening. With a cowardly pig farmer and the determined candle maker who hired them, they must solve the mystery of missing map pieces that may or may not lead to treasure, the quest having been set by the titular Jester. They find themselves in a sealed flooded room, with an angry monster on the other side of one door, and possible traps leading from a lever, another door, and a treasure chest. They must activate or go through one of these to get out of the chamber. Only one will lead to freedom (a previous wrong choice led them to the opening plummet) but which?
The story is told rapidly in flashback, or rather the key bits of it we need to know. It’s a good way of quickly filling in the backdrop for this short story. The humour is in the bickering and interplay between these very different characters.
A 40 minute listen that got me hooked to the characters, their world and the narrative style, this is testament to the writers skill.
I followed this up with “Professional Integrity.” This is an ingenious mystery of the “locked box in a room” variety. Hired by a naive young woman to arrange her own kidnapping to attract the attentions of a suitor who she presumes will come to the rescue, Royce and Hadrian are intrigued, especially when the girl explains that she is locked in a box by a father when this beau comes to visit. Things soon, of course, escalate and unravel in highly entertaining and unexpected directions.
Lovely stuff, and looking forward to exploring this world more.
Good, clear, characterful narration from Tim Gerard Reynolds.
In a desolate, demon blasted landscape, a lone Seraph night, and his winged, eyed sword, treads the road. Behind him trails a goat, and hidden under the flaps of his coat nestles a small baby girl. He finds corrupt and corrupted humans, out and out monsters and demon Lords on his travels. He eschews companions but where the need greatly outweighs the harm, and where it will aid his quest, he does take on various companions. A petty criminal named Harm, a raging demon yearning for its lost innocence and humanity called The Hammer, and other more transient helpers, some more ambivalent than others, join the quest. Their quest is to return the winged and eyed sword to the Seven, the original Seraph rulers. But what this will mean is uncertain…
Peter Newman has accomplished an incredible feat of world building. My initial feeling on starting this work was disorientation. Was this Earth of the far future or a different reality / dimension? The archetypes are ours (people, Hell, Knights, Demons, Animals etc.), and yet the strangeness, the otherness, is bewildering. Twin suns in the sky. A demonic invasion through a huge breach (crack) in the ground that has remained dormant for centuries. A demonic essence that infects and mutates like radiation. An ancient order of Seraph Knights that has ruled before the Infernal invasion. A technology including sky-ships, Centipede tanks, laser lances, all framed in medieval and feudal archetypes. It is head-spinning stuff. Then there’s the adventure, the quest, which is more straightforward; lone hero, a man with no name, must deliver a powerful talisman to the high powers to rid the world of a massive evil. But that itself is spun by the wonderful tricks in the narrative. The titular, eponymous Vagrant does not speak. Instead his thoughts are reflected by his expressions, actions and interactions, including with the baby he protects, and with his companions. And his goat! How the Vagrant got to this position is told in intervals in a thrilling back-story that begins with the demonic invasion.
Characterisation of subsidiary characters is also very well done. The baby (Vesper) and the Goat are powerful characters in their own right. In the audio-book, wonderfully voiced by Jot Davies, Vesper’s infant gurgles and expressions are convincingly done. Also, the main companion, Harm, is a wonderful piece of character development, from jittery low-life to a redeemed man both grateful and anxious about the shelf life of his redemption. Again, Jot Davies’s audio-book narration imbues him with humanity. Other characters such as snarling demons and Knight Commanders are given a wonderful range of expression. The monsters are truly alien and frightening. Shape shifters that feed off souls and clothe themselves in corpses, or inhabit and posses and mutate live bodies, they are a cross between Anime/Manga monsters and HP Lovecraft. The chief baddies have wonderful names like “The Uncivil.”
The Vagrant himself is a true Knight in that, where he can, he will right wrongs and save lives. He won’t where it will mean the failure of his mission and where he does have to leave people to die, it is shocking and he is racked with anguish. He also redeems others and wins followers of the most broken in humanity in a very Christ like way. Harm vocalises this more than anyone, speaking about how he has been changed and his life give new meaning. This goodness is set against an evil that can only consume, corrupt and destroy, not build anything new. The book portrays good versus evil with a refreshing (take note Game of Thrones) lack of cynicism.
If there are weaknesses, it’s that sometimes the multiple strangeness’s combine to make the action confusing. Events seem to be heading for an epic conflagration that never quite happens. Yet. There is so much here the book could have been much longer. There seems so much to explore. I hope there is more from this strange, compelling and yet familiar world. Very recommended.