Sworn in Steel review

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sworn in Steel is the second novel in the Kin series (it's a tale of...). It's the follow-up of my favorite Fantasy debut of 2011, Among Thieves. So it's been three years in the making... is it worth the wait?
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...
Among Thieves was the captivating account of a member of the Kin, Drothe, who went from being a Nose for a mob boss in the imperial city of Ildrecca to emerge as one of the heads of the criminal underworld, a Gray Prince.  While the book finished with a glorious new opportunity for Drothe, it also broke the character narrative perspective for the future since he went from street roamer to guarded leader. While I thought that Hulick was going to have to redesign Drothe's angle and interactions, he instead decided to bring the dedicated relic hunter back to the street. What could be more important for the man than his new brittle organisation to make him travel to a new intimidating territory? Let's answer that with an old friend and broken promises. That's enough? No, but don't forget that it's a tale of the Kin and blackmailing, manipulation and profit are just around the corner.

After getting into trouble, as usual, and making new acquaintances he would have preferred to never know, accompanied only by a troupe and his trusted Oak Mistress Fowler, Drothe has to find a way into a city that clearly doesn't want his presence within its inner walls.  The Gray Prince endeavor, still delightfully narrated in the first person perspective this time around, is written with small jumps in narrative between the chapters, probably to cut down on the less compelling or significant moments. Yet, up to his arrival in el-Qaddice, the Djanese capital, the tale contains a lot of explaining of the Kin's world. This wasn't necessary for a second book, even with the Cant involved (the specific vocabulary of the Kin, which again, adds some color to the novel). I don't really like when authors repeat themselves with parts of the story from the previous books but maybe sometimes they feel it's necessary...

From the moment Drothe is inside the city looking for a man he thought never to see again, I was already drawn in by the new setting the Djanese city offered, with its own power struggle just out of earshot, a parallel criminal framework and new factions like the Neyajin, unseen assassins. Mouths (Djanses magic users) and even exiled Imperials are also thrown into the mix. The perfect occasion for Drothe's body to be injured over and over again, a trademark for him alongside the following blackouts or near death states. Funny, cunning and stubborn. An interesting fellow I won't tire of soon.

By then, the table is set and Drothe is far away from his Gray Prince status. Moreover, the quest he is on, related to the mysterious and notorious mercenary order of the Degans doesn't look like a central or even compelling undertaking, but it's driven by the death threat the man behind the request carried out resolutely. Hopefully, when I thought that Hulick's story would remain kind of conventional for a tale of the Kin, he switched gear and the adventure became much more complicated.  Several characters revealed their true nature, identity or intentions, Drothe's night vision became a wanted gift, the Order of the Degans stood out as a fascinating enigma linked to the fate of the reincarnating Emperor, Imperial Magic secrets surfaced and new opportunities and mystical partners emerged.

What more can you ask? I was now more than compelled and couldn't put down the book.  Still, some elements created dents in the usually fluid build-up. The main nemesis of Drothe is sometimes brilliant and sometimes quite an ass. Why does he need to speak his mind in crucial moments? Classic mistake. Moreover, the author use of jumps in time felt like an easy narrative trick to instill more mystery, although none of that is aggravating.

Reaching the conclusion of Sworn in Steel, the less than heroic but more than dedicated sleepless swindler who's still addicted to ahrami seeds succeed in creating a lasting impression. For a second time, he mingled in things way bigger and definitely more dangerous than he could imagine, all for our pleasure. Action, dramatic developments and even healthy measures of fun.  The wait was doubtlessly worth it, the book is a fitting follow-up to Among Thieves.

Cover: Weird... Drothe's principal quality isn't sword fighting.... still, I think I prefer the UK cover (the one at the top of the review)
Release date: May 6th 2014
Map: No
Number of pages: 512 (mass market paperback), 251 in ebook edition
Acquisition method: Bought the ebook myself
Other: A small dramatis personae

I liked...Was disappointed by...
The first person perspectiveThe recaps
The exploration of the Order of the Degans pastThe sometimes dumb 'villain'
Drothe's setbacks and counteractionsSome time jumps
A whole lot of other stuff!

Sworn in Steel review rating :


Ghost said...

I loved "Among Thieves" and has been bummed by some of the less-than-stellar reviews of "Sworn in Steel". Your review has given me hope.

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