Title: Duchess of the Shallows
Authors: Neil McGarry and Daniel Ravipinto
Release date: March 2, 2012
Publisher: Peccable Productions
Source: Personal collection
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
This debut fantasy novel tells the story of a young girl named Duchess as she seeks to join the guild of the Gray. Who are the Gray? Well, it’s not really explicitly laid out, but it seems to be some group of thieves and whisperers. In order to gain entry, she must steal a treasured knife from a nobleman on the night of his big party, avoiding the local toughs, hired thugs and whoever passes for police in this city. Sounds like a typical caper, right?
Well, yes, but ultimately an enjoyable one. To escape the manor alive, Duchess must use all her limited resources, which are few; her primary skills seem to be bravery and baking. Nice abilities to have on balance, but perhaps not particularly well-suited for this task.
She relies on her best friend Lysander for intelligence (both kinds) and occasionally a bit of muscle. Lysander is an interesting specimen: a dashing leader, charming and quick to laugh, but nonetheless unsure of himself when pushed out of his comfort zone. And he’s also a teenage prostitute. But Duchess needs all the help she can get, and Lysander’s connections often come through for her in her quest to rob a wealthy baron.
This is an interesting first novel. The writing is decent, the setting is realistic and flavorful, and the story has good pacing and is refreshingly short. The buildup is steady and the payoff worthwhile. The info-dumps about the city and local history were often clumsy, but that’s something very difficult to do well. And after so many fantasy novels threaten a potential Evil Overlord Apocalypse, I actually kind of liked how the stakes were so low. Really, even the heist they are trying to pull off doesn’t sound that difficult except that they have virtually no resources of their own.
Duchess and Lysander are realistic characters, with plenty of clever dialogue and generally enough flaws to avoid Mary Sue territory. Here’s an excerpt from their first meeting, when a young Duchess was trying to avoid being overawed with Lysander’s cocky street smarts.
Lysander said, “I’ll bet you don’t know anything about ganymedes or even brothels, for that matter.”
“I do so know about brothels!” She was less informed on ganymedes, but she didn’t want to admit that. “I’ve even been in one. I’ll bet you haven’t.”
He smiled then, and even at that young age she recognized an adult sadness in the expression. It made her heart ache. “Oh, one or two,” he said.
But the realism of the story is both a strength and a weakness. The story is very grounded. Magic shows up very little, and the characters have realistic goals and reasonable fears. But in some respects this takes away from the overall pop of the story. Tyrion’s razor-sharp tongue or Logen’s unstoppable bloodlust may not be like anyone you know, but they’re a lot of fun. Instead, this story feels smaller, more manageable. And that’s all right; it isn’t trying to be epic fantasy, and that’s fine. But I do think this fantasy could perhaps benefit from a bit more epic.
Interested? Read Duchess of the Shallows for yourself! Buy the Kindle edition from Amazon.
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