Series: Kingdom of Grit #1
Published by Orbit on October 1, 2020
Ardor Benn is no ordinary thief. Rakish, ambitious, and master of wildly complex heists, he styles himself a Ruse Artist Extraordinaire.
When a priest hires him for the most daring ruse yet, Ardor knows he'll need more than quick wit and sleight of hand. Assembling a dream team of forgers, disguisers, schemers, and thieves, he sets out to steal from the most powerful king the realm has ever known.
But it soon becomes clear there's more at stake than fame and glory -Ard and his team might just be the last hope for human civilization.
This is a hard book for me to rate.
We’ll start with the plot. Fabulous, chef’s kiss. There was stealing and hijinks, costumes and manipulation, tricks and obstacles to overcome. Each significant part of the plot seemed very well thought out, and it was entertaining seeing the process of how the characters worked through issues. They actively used the skills that had been brought up beforehand (Quarrah wasn’t just labeled a thief for the sake of it and then never shown using those skills, for example).
The downside is, there is so much plot. The book is loooong, and I felt like there were 5 books with their own separate plot lines all shoved into one. The plot lines themselves were wonderful, but one barely finished and you were on to the next. Not only that, there wasn’t a lot of build up to any of them (except the first, really), since there wasn’t the space. It felt very action movie-esque, where you’re forced to just say “well, I guess this is what’s happening”. I don’t know what I would have wanted instead, except maybe some space to breathe.
Now, the characters. I liked Ardor and I liked Raek. I don’t think we got enough of them together, which I understand due to the circumstances but I still wanted to see more of them exchanging banter. Quarrah I also liked, but I have some issues with how she’s portrayed. Which I will put below in a spoiler section that you can choose to read at your own peril. The side characters were all okay, but they mainly existed for the plot. Which isn’t always a bad thing, but you could clearly see them exiting stage left until they were needed at exactly the right moment again.
Really, I think exploring King Pethrodote and High Isle Chauster’s motivations more would have been interesting, as I think there was some moral greyness to be explored. But we really only got that when Ard was about to blow them up, or something.
Now for some spoiler talk: View Spoiler »My biggest issue is the relationship with Ard and Quarrah. Because we skip a lot of time, there’s no showing of the relationship. It’s all telling, which makes it feel very forced. They meet, time and interactions happen off page, and then they’re saying “I’m in love with you” even though you as a reader haven’t experienced anything leading up to that. It felt very contrived, and almost like it was thought that this relationship was needed to show a character arc for Ard. Which it wasn’t. Quarrah also could have been established as a character without the relationship.
This forced relationship also makes Quarrah feel flat as a character. Her responses to certain things seem to stem from “oh well this is how a woman would react if an ex was mentioned” instead of within her character? I don’t know how to explain it, other than the sudden mention of jealousy (more than once) without any explanation other than there’s a woman in Ard’s past who has come up in convo felt off to me. Again, being told instead of shown reactions causes some disconnect. « Hide Spoiler
Anyway, the dragon’s were cool. Grit as a system was interesting, and I like that it wasn’t over-explained but you still knew how things worked. And the setting was pretty good, it felt like a classic(ish) high-fantasy world.
Ultimately, I will probably pick up the second. Is part of that because of the covers? Yes. Am I going to cry at the sheer mass of the final two books in the series? Also yes.