In the last few weeks I’ve read two great books; both are clever and both feature a strong central trio of characters.
In Beyond Redemption by Michael Fletcher, we have three emotionally stunted, savage and amusing warriors who wander a dark and wretched world leaving a trail of death and chaos behind them until they happen upon a potentially hugely lucrative heist: to steal a God. It doesn’t go terribly well for all concerned, you’ll be glad to hear.
The strength of this novel lies in the very original reality Fletcher constructs and how it defines the characters, plot and the world. This is a world in which Geisteskranken are people whose beliefs or delusions can shape reality. The clearest and also a wonderfully clever example is that of the incredibly handsome swordsman Wichtig. He believes he is the greatest swordsman in the world. He seeks out other swordsmen to prove it. In front of a crowd he’ll challenge them, knowing that if he can persuade the crowd he is obviously better then this will make it real. Their belief he will win will make it true. The more battles he wins, the more true it becomes. Yet the most powerful Geisteskranken are the most insane, in the sense that their beliefs or delusions about how the world should be are so certain they change the world to fit, and do not need others’ beliefs to do it. So, our trio’s somewhat oblique antagonist is training children to believe they are Gods, and if he succeeds in making them believe it he will kill them, because all who are killed must serve their killer in the AfterDeath. Thus he will have a God to serve him.
As with Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, the main characters in this novel really pop, they have clarity, though they themselves are unable to admit what it is they need from each other. The boy god, Morgen, has a powerful arc as a “minor” character. He’s well realised and his journey is fascinating and clearly very well thought out, if you’ve ever tried to imagine why a god might do anything.
I am quite surprised that a work of such originality didn’t warrant the continued support of its publisher. It doesn’t appear to have deterred Michael (and why would it, I write irrespective of who might read it) and I’m glad.
The trio at the heart of Matt Suddain’s Hunters & Collectors have a quite different dynamic, but they are just as interesting for also being flawed. It’s all about the insufferably egotistical John Tamberlain, a famous intergalactic food critic who, after a chance encounter, goes searching for a legendary and mysterious hotel that serves the greatest food in the universe. If that sounds a little bizarre, I haven’t even begun. Suddain’s book has drawn comparisons with Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut, which I think are merited, particularly with regard to dialogue, which is absolutely razor sharp, the best I’ve read in a long while. The characters have great lines and the dialogue fleshes out their interactions and relationships with all the wit and economy you could hope for.
With Tamberlane’s agent ‘The Beast’ and his minder Gladys, who is most definitely not what she seems, Suddain plays with the ‘unreliable narrator’, but only plays, using the occasional switch of narrator to bolster our read of Tamberlain. One measure of Suddain’s ability as an author is that he flawlessly pulls off the challenge of having the reader root for a largely reprehensible protagonist.
Of course, the three of them reach the fabled lost hotel, but none of them are quite ready for what they find within. Suffice to say it weaves together the poignant fates of some significant antagonists and does exposition extremely well, not just in balancing how much we get as readers, but also in terms of the characters themselves. As the back stories come out, along with those tensions and attachments just beneath the surface, it’s clear that they have caused the trio’s present day travails. This is assured storytelling dressed in very smart and funny prose.
Oh, and I fell in love with Gladys.