Thursday, June 12, 2014

Book Review - Sworn in Steel

Sworn in Steel – Douglas Hulick


To say I have been looking forward to this book is an understatement. Among Thieves was a great read: Brilliant world-building, fast-paced, great characters and above all fun. Sworn in Steel has been anticipated by many, unfortunately it suffered many delays. Could it possibly live up to the hype?

The blurb:

It's been three months since Drothe killed a legend, burned down a portion of the imperial capital, and unexpectedly elevated himself into the ranks of the criminal elite. Now, as the newest Gray Prince in the underworld, he's learning just how good he used to have it.

With barely the beginnings of an organization to his name, Drothe is already being called out by other Gray Princes. And to make matters worse, when one dies, all signs point to Drothe as wielding the knife. As members of the Kin begin choosing sides - mostly against him - for what looks to be another impending war, Drothe is approached by a man who not only has the solution to Drothe's most pressing problem, but an offer of redemption. The only problem is the offer isn't for him.

Now Drothe finds himself on the way to the Despotate of Djan, the empire's long-standing enemy, with an offer to make and a price on his head. And the grains of sand in the hour glass are running out, fast . . .

The answer is “no,” followed by “kinda.” I was incredibly disappointed with the first half of this novel.  The opening chapter aside, I found it a bit of a mess to be honest. There were a few highlights but it was so disjointed, with so many new characters/factions introduced that dare I say I found it a bit of a slog initially.

In Among Thieves Drothe was a fantastic character, but he is almost unrecognisable here. In Among Thieves he was up against the odds but had wit and charm to guide him through. In Sworn in Steel he was moody and sulky. His struggle to deal with his new position as Grey Prince and his quest to establish what exactly was going on was hard to read rather than be fun. 

I understand that he was attempting to deal with betraying his best friend Degan, but there was never a time where I felt comfortable that he was in control of what he was doing. He stumbled around from stranger to stranger, uncovering half truths and lies and never seeming to get anywhere. Whilst this mystery could have been intriguing the fact that Drothe loses his sense of identity so completely bothered me.

For the first half of the book, the only character I really enjoyed was Fowler. She at least had the sense to stand up to Drothe and slap the stupidity out of him. Much like Lynch did with Locke in the first half of Red Seas Over Red Skies, Hulick takes a protagonist we all loved and then changes his character as he wallows in self pity. Unlike Jean Tannen in RSORS, Fowler does not feature enough to make up for the absence of “fun” Drothe.

The plot is not particularly inspiring either. Drothe must discover a way into the city to even begin his proper investigation of finding Degan. This process takes so long and is belittled when other characters later on in the book seem to do it with ease.

Having said that, the book shifts for the better in a big way around the halfway mark. Suddenly the characters that were introduced have revelations that make them interesting. The twists come thick and fast and everything that Drothe thinks he has uncovered turns out to be misleading or downright false.

It is no coincidence that the book improves when Degan inevitably appears (although he also suffers from an excruciating amount of self-pity). Still, once the plot becomes clear it seems Hulick’s gets into his stride and the book is as good as his debut.

Drothe regains some of his arrogance and starts to have a bit more fight to him. The history of the Degans is fascinating and adds to the whole understanding of how the empire was established. There are still some plot points that are randomly dropped but overall the sub-plots particularly the one involving Aribah is actually very good.

The ending is well done and the main story arcs are all tied off nicely with a good resolution. The final showdown is excellent and without spoiling anything I loved how Hulick chose to end the combat.

One other negative point that I must mention is the poor editing in the Kindle edition. I don’t mind the occasional misspelt word (just check my reviews out!) but in this book there was more than the above average amount of errors. Since I started noticing there was another 10 glaring errors. These were not your, “of’s” instead of “or’s” or left off punctuation (although there were plenty of these too), but things like “Fatter” rather than “Flatter,” and other words that changed the meaning of the sentence. There were also repeated words and weird spaces in some words. I can understand if the book was rushed out for publication but in a book as delayed as this, it was a real shame and sloppy.

Overall, Sworn in Steel was a book of two halves. The first half was not very engrossing and very disappointing but the second was up to the standard of the debut novel I loved.

My rating 7.5