We all have our secret commands that summon us to buy. It turns out one of mine is “takes influences from the game Exalted“.
For those unknowing, Exalted is a pen and paper RPG allowing you to play characters of similar mythological power to Cuchulainn, Sun Wukong, Moses, Väinämöinen, and Shango, in a giant world that is a stage for heroes, in the last acts of a deadly morality play, and generally a redefinition of the term “kitchen sink setting”. It is one of the most glorious acts of imagination and logic in fantasy and when I find out other people know of it, I get excited.
In The Moonsteel Crown, Deas offers a smaller, more confined world, with more mundane protagonists. Oh, there’s a big wide Empire beyond Varr’s walls, but that’s not of much concern to Fingers, Seth, and Myla, three down-on-their-luck figures loosely attached to Blackhand’s gang. Myla’s a woman with the swords of a sword-monk, the moves of a sword-monk, and the history of none of your business. Seth was a promising acolyte in the order of the Sun-Priests and now he sells crap leftover pies.
And Fingers is just really good at stealing things. Likes it too.
Theirs is a classic story. There is an item that needs stolen, things go wrong, and things keep getting worse. Now I sit and think about it, I’m actually quite reminded of a Guy Ritchie film. Welcome to Lock, Stock and Two Bloody Swords. The more I think about this, the more I like this comparison. You see, there’s three things that I think Deas does really, really well here. He tells a great twisty story with a lot of creative use of narrative to create uncertainty and tension. He uses character voices that have an absolute ton of character. The character oozes from them like syrup from old Greek pastries. And he knows how to make a set piece action scene come alive. Very Guy Ritchie, right? This, I humbly submit, is a good thing.
There are a few times when the strengths are pushed a little too far and don’t quite work for me. Sometimes the twistiness got a little too twisty and I got bad-confused. Sometimes we lingered too long with voices on the transition scenes and I got a little bored. The latter happened less and less as the book progressed. I flew through the last few pages.
The worldbuilding is the only thing I have a gripe about. The Empire sounds interesting but we only get fragments and pieces. We know there’s a big wide world but little about it. The exact functionings of how society runs, who controls what, are hazy. But given the narrow vision of Blackhand’s gang, I suspect this may be deliberate, the showing of a world for people who mostly don’t have call to think about what lies outside their immediate future.
In any case, I really enjoyed myself. Fingers status as an absolute liability really endeared him to me by the end. Myla’s guts, tiredness, and conscience were wonderful to watch – favourite character status beckons. Seth wasn’t quite as likable but that’s okay, this is the first in a series. And his plot line definitely the most interesting.
I can’t wait for the next book to find out what’s going on.