Forrest Aguire asked me to read his novella "Cloaks of Vermin and Fish" the other day. It takes place in Renaissance Venice and stars twin apprentices in the Thieves Guild, Italo and Vinecenzo, as they track down a relic for their boss. In the process they get tangled up with the assassin's guild, a wizard, and a cult that worships a fish god.
First off I'll say this the best opening scene I've ever read as a voluntary book reviewer. "Spoglio had wondered many times what it might feel like to die". That's the first line. Something like that draws attention. Spoglio is in the process of a robbery; an Action Prologue which also helps hold attention. It certainly had mine. It also provides world building. Finally, Spoglio is a decoy protagonist. These three factors got me interested in the story and flipping the pages. A crucial factor for the first few pages of any book. Unfortunately, the rest of the book is not so engaging.
The first twenty pages or so are a comedy. The two thieves are comical fools and the butt of jokes and amusing injuries. Even the death of their grandmother, as revealed in flashback, is treated as black comedy. Though the narration states the twins feel bad, the nature of the death and the tone of the story so far makes it hard to take seriously. Then a gruesome and horrific death occurs and the rest of the story is not so funny.
The death of their grandmother is only the tip of a horrible childhood. Without the humorous tone they become less endearing fools and more tragic victims. This itself is not bad but it occurs at the same time that the twins are demoted to someone else's sidekick. They follow this person from one informant to the next on their way to the climax. One of them performs a single significant action before the ending and the other is just....there. These two aspects drain the light hearted appeal of the story that grabbed my interest in the first place.
With a different tone, a different (for all intents and purposes) protagonist, and a shift from thievery to occult mystery it feels as though Mr.Aguire wanted to write a different story and attached it to the first. The change left a bad taste in my mouth.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Cloaks of Vermin and Fish" a C
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