Rob Gresgson asked me to read his novel "Unreliable Histories". It's an urban fantasy that looks to take place in a fantasy counterpart of the British Isles during the Age of Exploration. I will examine plot, characters and polish and then decide on a grade.
NOTE: this review is about the first edition. I was 1/3 finished with it by the time Mr.Gregson put out the second. He informed me that the chapter ordering is a little different, Jul has a little more screen time and the opening was rearranged, but in terms of content and story, they are the same.
What we have here is two characters investigating a mystery. Myrah and Al encounter a wizard in a big and flashy event who tells them to find a certain object before dying. Mostly because they're bored, they go off on this little scavenger hunt. They travel from place to place learning about this thing they've found and uncover pieces of information relating to alternate histories for their country and their own lives.
What I like the most about this story is its angle about the Commercialization of Adventure. Myrah's uncle is one of the three heads of an empire spanning company that supplies explorers, adventurers and the like. It's called FMS Exploration and it has everything from ships to equipment to crew for its customers. Most of it is just for show because the adventurers are just for show. They're trying to become rich, famous or some other self-serving goal by lying about their boring and profitless adventure. There's a running gag about how they name innocuous and harmless places something intimidating and fearsome like "Light of Dragon's Blood" or some other such silliness in order to spice up their tale.
It's the opposite of the trope No Hero Discount. While the hero sees the merchant as greedy for not cutting him a break when he's trying to save the world, the merchant sees the hero as walking money whose not as special or important as he thinks he is. It's even this sort of merchant that keeps the traps in all those dungeons fresh and ready. HOWEVER, this is all done is good fun (narratively speaking). It's not a dark and gritty sort of angle but a light hearted mocking angle. I find that much more appealing than someone who piles on the tragedy.
About half way through there's a genre shift where Myrath and Al go through a genuinely threatening dungeon that houses a genuinely threatening demon and receive aid from a genuinely heroic adventurer (Myrth, in her jadedness, still thinks he's a scoundrel, despite a smidgen of infatuation). There's still more of the Commercialization of Adventure going on, but I got the sense that the vain glorious adventurers of the start are just the most public and visible; there's a deeper layer going on.
Ending is great. There's closure for the book's conflict and a funny lampshading of the remaining plot threads and how everything is not all neatly tied up. It also works well as a launching pad into the second book.
Myrah is the hero of this story and a character I like. She's practical, she's both intelligent and cunning, and she has heroic spirit. She's also jaded from her uncle's "profit above all else" business model, poser explorers and the general misogyny of her society. Third, she has this British wit which I believe is a gift direct from her author.
Al (Alaethar) is her partner and foil. He's this big guy that helps Myrah because he's in love with her. He's routinely Mistaken For Badass because of his size and an innocent scare on his collarbone. At the start, you think he is the one going to be the Ascended Fanboy but then he becomes Myrah's voice of reason as she tries to figure out the Index. It is quite amusing to see Agent Mulder turn into Agent Skully so quickly. The genre shift has quite an effect on him.
Nevigorn is a fun character. During his previous adventure, he found The Truth and gained an Enlightenment Superpower that changed his view of the universe and everyone in it. As a result, he rarely makes any sense to anyone. It's cloud cuckoo lander humor that is at the same time very pertinent to the plot. His Lack of Empathy can come off as Leaning On the Fourth Wall.
Fievelus is Myrah's uncle and one of two villains for this story. He may be the Big Bad or an Unwitting Pawn by the end but he's certainly The Heavy. He's greedy. He's a Corrupt Corporate Executive that has developed a Social Darwin style philosophy to explain how he is not corrupt despite his actions. Myrah tries to keep him out of the loop regarding her adventurer activities as much as possible because she knows that he will push her aside to make as much profit as possible regardless of anything else.
Hahn is a minor character but I wanted to include him but he is a fascinating case. He is every bit the Ideal Hero: brave, charismatic, kind, generous, defender of the innocent and scourge of oppressors while also very skilled in combat. For this reason Myrah thinks he's a scoundrel because he's known as an outlaw (because of the scourge of oppressors thing) and because she's never met an adventurer that wasn't a selfish glory hound. On the contrary, he spends all his praise on Al, a rookie warrior and a stranger to him. He also speaks in a formal heroic style, which Al and Myrah both find strange but fitting with his character type.
It looks good. No spelling or grammar errors. The foot notes have some funny and interesting world building.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Unreliable Histories" an A+
This is a free review request. I received nothing in exchange for it but a free copy of the book.
Click here for the previous book review (which was not a request): Spice and Wolf Volume 4