R.S. Hunter asked me to review his story "Exile's Violin." It's a steampunk detective novel with a smidgen of fantasy. It stars Jacquie, a girl who losses everything when thieves blow up her home. The backbone of the story is her quest to retrieve two items that were stolen from her at that time and take revenge on those that did it. The following review will evaluate the characters, plot, polish, and finally assign a grade.
There are three genres in this story: detective, military, and heroic fantasy and all in a steampunk setting. It works better than you might think.
The plot begins as a detective novel; Jacquie is hired by a big wig to investigate a warmonger conspiracy. Then the plot transitions to a military story when the conspiracy is revealed and battles take place. Finally it shifts to heroic fantasy at the climax; a warrior armed with mystic weapons fights a power mad villain with magic. When I stopped to think about it, I was amazed by how well Mr.Hunter makes this work.
Jacquie has an internal monologue lampshading how out of place she, as a detective, is on a military vessel, and the second transition is adequately developed before hand so it doesn't feel too jarring. Indeed, Jacquie is more shocked by the Big Bad killing people with his magic powers than by the fact that he has magic powers at all.
The sequence of events from scene to scene is well done; no shocking swerves and the reasons for doing X or Y make sense. The characters are driving the plot for 99 percent of the story and that makes for an engaging adventure. However, the problem lies in that last 1 percent.
It may be due to my troper experience but the big plot twists were easy to see coming. I count four of them and the last one is the only one that surprised me and only because of the setting. This is due to the nature of the setup; I'm surprised Jacquie herself didn't see them coming. At points such as this I could feel Mr.Hunter hands on her shoulders; preventing her from taking action. This also happens with the Big Bad, who would have gotten along famously with one from a James Bond film.
1. Why Don't You Just Shoot Her?
-The Big Bad had ample opportunity to kill the heroes throughout the novel but doesn't act on it. Even at the end he doesn't seriously try to kill them. He uses a magical, undodgeable, one-hit kill on the soldiers but uses something else to attack Jacquie. It lead me to consider Alternate Character Interpretation to explain it because otherwise the plot would collapse like a house without support beams.
2. You Can't Thwart Stage One
- Jacquie has two opportunities to shoot the Big Bad before the final stage. The first time she lets him give a motive rant despite saying she doesn't care why he's doing it. This allows him to get away. The second time she has Clay and six soldiers with her and she doesn't shoot. She takes a long time to aim which is enough for the Big Bad to get the upper hand again. This time it is so ridiculous it would be funny if it were not painful. One man with an auto-rifle makes eight fully armed people (six of them soldiers) surrender. On both of these occassions the Big Bad could have killed Jacquie with ease but doesn't and provides no reason why he doesn't.
Neither of those problems affect the conclusion of the climax. That was foreshadowed well in advance and drawn attention to in the calm before the climax. Not everything is tied up pretty with a bow but the main conflict and Jacquie's character arc are resolved. It's a great place to push from because the baggage of this book is shed and leaves great potential for future adventures.
Whatever problems the plot has in its foundations, they are easy to overlook thanks to the characters. My favorite part of this book is not the conspiracy plot or anything involving the Big Bad but the snark to snark combat between Jacquie and her sidekick, Clay. The contrast between their lives (working class detective and upper class socialite) and their mutual wit are much more fun to read than their investigations.
Jacquie is a deconstruction of badass and this is one of the reasons why I like her. She's is a tough woman; she can win gun fights when outnumbered and escape a city that's quarantined by a military looking for her specifically, but she's not unstoppable or invincible. She gets tired like real people and gets splinters and scrapes like real people that need to be attended to. Secondly, when the story shifts from investigating to airship battles, she fades into the background and becomes a view point character. She is not a soldier or a sailor so she's useless in such a situation and acknowledges it.
Secondly, she is what I'd call a positive use of Static Character; there is a long time skip between the robbery and the main narrative because the former is a prologue. In this period she goes from traumatized schoolgirl to veteran detective. Seeing these two mesh in the main story is the appeal of her character arc.
By contrast, Clay has a significant amount of character development. He goes from a bored rich guy to a devoted knight in shining armor; taking his hobby seriously, caring about Jacquie personally instead of as a source of excitement, and becoming her conscience. He regularly snarks at her anti-hero actions and calls her out on the more extreme ones. Watching him grow is like watching a gaudy foam sword transform into a elegant steel one.
I don't see any word cruft which is always a plus. The sentences are crisp and precise and clear. There may have been one or two spelling errors but overall the book has a polished feel to it.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Exile's Violin" an A-
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