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A GAMBLE OF GODS by Mitriel Faywood (BOOK REVIEW)


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A Gamble of Gods, Mitriel Faywood’s speculative fiction debut, exuberantly merges sci-fi and fantasy millieux in a multi-world story following three different first-person point of view characters.

We begin, with a scientist and academic Kristian del Rosso in a futuristic world where people do not so much dream of electric sheep as ride electric horses. An incident of brutal murderous violence brings Kristian’s comfortable and secluded university life to an abrupt end and, counselled by his mentor James Montgomery, Kristian sets out on a journey to track down the perpetrator. Accompanied and carried by his android steed Storn, a sort of Commander Data in equine form, Kristian’s pursuit takes him through interplanetary gates to new worlds.

The narrative then switches to the rogue Conor Drew – an incorrigible but still charming thief and womaniser inhabiting a world of sword play and magic that resembles Sebastian de Castell’s Greycoat series. In the midst of hustling away through cons and thefts, Conor enrages one duke too many and finds himself in some peril.

Gamble_of_Gods-eCover-200x300.png?resizeWhen Kristian comes to his rescue, it turns out that Kristian’s quarry is closer than he thought, and Conor is dragged into one of those meticulously choreographed fights that plays in the mind’s eye like an action movie (I was reminded of this while watching The Gray Man (2022) where the two ‘good guy’ protagonists take on a single but extremely skilled lone wolf attacker.)

As Conor and Kristian gather their breath and tend to their wounds, the story switches to the more familiar urban setting of near-contemporary London where Selena Soto is trapped by a workplace that does not deserve her skills, a love object who does not deserve her affection and a cage of her own low self-esteem.

The story threads which at first feel impossibly disparate quickly braid together as first Kristian’s mentor, James Montgomery, and then the assassin that Kristian is hunting weave a way into Selena’s life, and it is not long before the three protagonists come crashing together.

The contrast between Faywood’s characters helps drive some intriguing inter-trio tensions of the romantic and non-romantic kind. Just as gunpowder has its three components of sulphur, carbon and saltpetre, so too the brash mercurial confidence of Conor acts as the triggering ingredient that makes everything go with a bang, as he punctures the reclusive pomposity of Kristian and emboldens the shy self-effacing Selena.

Faywood indulges more in ‘universe building’ than ‘world building’ as the trio discover the connection they feel to each other is far from accidental and that they have a potential role to play in helping bring balance to a universe beset with challenges. Much as Terry Pratchett’s immortal DEATH did not attend every person’s passing, simply those of particularly nodal significance, so too the challenges in Faywood’s universe are focussed on particular key situations. The three heroes, still in the midst of discovering their talents and exploring their connections, find themselves enmeshed in a particularly sensitive political situation which calls for all of their different skills. However, the assassin haunting Kristian is never that far away.

Faywood has imagined a rich and diverse universe, but the book is not weighed down with exposition. Information is delivered in the moment and as you need it, although Kristian’s nature – tortured by doubt and guilt – does give scope for some useful moments of self-reflection, However, his backstory – key to the plot – is both well developed and subtly delivered, so much so that a second reading is full of moments of illumination and recognition for the reader, the kind that begin “Oh yes, so that’s why…”

Faywood’s prose flows smoothly, at times enjoying a lush description of scenery or a moment of character introspection, at others sweeping the reader along in the exuberant chaos of action as any setting becomes a potential combat zone, be it a quiet library, or the top of a moving horse drawn carriage. But not all conflicts are physical, and the tension of court etiquette and the duelling of pointed conversation also carry the reader along at a brisk pace.

I found plenty of nice lines.

For example, the example of pathetic fallacy[i] in Selena’s observation about wind shepherding clouds

“… the rain had subsided, a brisk wind shepherding the clouds along the sky.”

Or the insightful fire and the grim humour in Conor’s reflection here.

“Anger is like fire. Let it burn unwatched and it will hurt you. Use it wisely and it becomes what the Gods intended it to be: Fortitude. I’ve always found that one of the best ways to employ such a fire was by cooking up a plan.”

Or Kristian about to connect with his darker side

“I sat down at my work desk with intent, the moonless night outside a pale imitation of the darkness my thoughts twisted around. Death loomed over me like a second shadow, cold and hungry. I invited it in. Somewhere out there a killer was on the run. And I was going to hunt him down.”

Faywood’s debut benefits both from the tight and intimate focus on its three entangled first-person protagonists, and from the breadth of settings that Faywood has imagined, spanning both worlds and genres. It is an impressive first work full of action and excitement and introducing a close knit team of varied but captivating characters.

 

A Gamble of Gods is out on 11th November 2022 – you can find out more and pre-order your copy HERE

 

[i] Just to be clear, because it is a point I only learned in my mid-fifties and others may share my previous misconception, the term ‘pathetic fallacy’ does not refer to a ‘pitiable falsehood’ as I once assumed. Instead, it means the attribution of human traits/feelings/behaviours to non-human/inanimate objects for rhetorical effect as in this case, where Faywood is crediting the non-human ‘wind’ with the human behaviour of ‘shepherding’.

 

Gamble_of_Gods-eCover-Mitriel-FaywoodFEA

The post A GAMBLE OF GODS by Mitriel Faywood (BOOK REVIEW) appeared first on The Fantasy Hive.

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