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Monday, September 9, 2019

SPFBO Semi-Finalist: Beggar's Rebellion by Levi Jacobs (reviewed by David Stewart)



Order Beggar's Rebellion HERE 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Levi Jacobs is the author of the near-future science-fiction novel ACHE, as well as the fantastical Resonant Saga and forthcoming Water of Night series. He has received the Colorado Gold award in Speculative Fiction, taken first place in The Zebulon Fiction Contest for Science Fiction, and had shorter work published in Spark: A Creative Anthology, Jungle Crows and Perihelion SF. Hailing from North Dakota, with much of his formative years spent in Japan and Uganda, Levi has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and sells fruit in the oil fields to make a living. 

FORMAT/INFO: Beggar's Rebellion is 421 pages long, divided over 43 chapters. It is the first entry in the Resonant Saga series. The book is currently available in ebook and print formats, as well as on Kindle Unlimited. The two follow-up novels in the series are available as well. It was self-published by the author on February 17, 2019. Cover art and design by Mateusz Michalski.

ANALYSIS: I was pleased to see Beggar's Rebellion pop up in my batch of books for this year's SPFBO. The premise seemed intriguing, and the cover showed a clear dedication to finding quality art. It did not take long for Jacobs' easy prose and intriguing plotlines to scoop me up, and by the end of the book it was shockingly clear which book in my batch would be advancing to the next round of the contest.

Setting: Beggar's Rebellion shows us a setting that is becoming more common as the fantasy genre stretches its legs a bit - a colonized nation under the yoke of an Imperial power. The Councilate, the ruling body in the city of Ayugen, can be likened to the overreaching fingers of 18th century England. Their interest in Ayugen is a substance called yura, a plant that allows people to tap into latent powers that can range from unassisted flight to the slowing of time itself. This is not at odds with the current grabs for oil around our real world as yura is a substance that everyone needs but that is in limited quantity. The Councilate finds loads of the stuff, which grows on cavern walls like a moss, in the mines around Ayugen. This happens to be the home of Tai Kulga. Tai is famous as a former rebel, one who fought against the Councilate years before but lost and now lives as a street tough. 

The backdrop that Jacobs sets us in is atypical of much of the fantasy we read. There are no dragons here, no monsters in the forest or creatures in the deep. This place feels unsettlingly real at times, and might even feel historic if it weren't for the superheroes bouncing around. Make no mistake, this is fantasy. It is built as such, and the powers that people display are only explained as a type of magic. The system is not that far from the metal-consumption of Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series, but there is a more egalitarian feel to Jacobs' sorcery because it seems that anyone can do it. To add to this dynamic are voices that every living person hears in their heads, and which provides one of the central mysteries of the book. 

Plot: We first meet Ellumia Aygla, Beggar's Rebellion's other protagonist, aboard a ship where she plies her accounting trade for the captains and merchants aboard the vessel. Events force her from the ship in the city of Ayugen where she meets Tai. Ella's goal in life is to learn, and it is the effects of yura on the body that she most wishes to learn about. The rumor that there is a young man who can channel his power without the effects of yura leads her to Tai. They form a quick friendship, and it isn't long before Ella is brought into what looks to be another rebellion. Conditions in Ayugen are not friendly for the natives, with Councilate lawmen cracking down and imprisoning them for very little reason. The prison camps bear a horrifying similarity to the concentration camps in our own history, and Jacobs does a pinpoint job of nailing down the simmering anger and helplessness felt by every citizen native to Ayugen. That the Councilate has built up what they refer to as New Ayugen, a place where they flaunt the riches granted them from the harvest of yura, only adds fuel to the fire. 

Jacobs plotting is precise and paced almost flawlessly. This will not be the first time I, or anyone else, compares him to the famed Brandon Sanderson, genre superstar and big blockbusting seller of books about wizards, because Jacobs seems to have every chapter thought out, every detail refined to happen at the right time in the right place. The story has its beginning, middle, and end, and manages to create this arc while also leaving the doors blaringly open for the sequels. 

Characters: Comparisons to Sanderson do not end here, but they do change. Tai and Ella are both really great characters, well-rounded, believable, and whose motivations and actions make sense. Tai is angry, and rightly so, and his actions often mirror this even as his innate kindness and love for his adopted family usually override his passions. Ella, my personal favorite character and one of my favorites in all of fantasy, has a similar compassion, but hails from the very oppressors that she fights against. What I most love about Ella is her clarity of vision. She knows she lives and benefits from the injustices in her system, and also sees in an almost prescient way just how rebelling against that system will only replace it with something similar and arguably better or worse. She wants to change the Councilate from the inside, a task far more gargantuan than simply fighting physically against it. She is also smart enough to do it, and if intelligence is a weapon, she is the most dangerous woman in Ayugen.


I think Jacobs writes better characters than Sanderson, and it has to do with the humanity that shines from his protagonists. These are flawed individuals whose flaws might not be that apparent. They are people who grow in the novel, a growth that is quite literally personified in their acquisition of power. The imaginary friend theme that Levi Jacobs writes about, and I apologize if that sounds childish but it is an apt analogy that doesn't go into spoilers of the story, is a smart way of creating an inner dialogue that doesn't seem forced, and so we are privy to the arguments his characters have with themselves. There is an intimacy to this that isn't captured as well by simply relating inner monologues, which happens far too often in fiction. 

Parting Words: By the three-quarter mark of reading Beggar's Rebellion, I was already recommending it to other readers. I was trying to explain to people in my real-life what self-publishing even entailed, and that they could start a free trial of Kindle Unlimited to read this book. The series is called the Resonant Saga, and I feel that it is an apt name because this book resonated with me in a way that not many do. The themes of poverty and oppression are not uncommon in fantasy, but the way in which Jacobs presents them feels authentic in a time where we see much of what we only expect to witness in fantasy bleed into our reality. There is a catharsis in Jacobs' characters finding their own power and means of rebellion, especially when many of us feel so powerless to make the changes we want in the world. My favorite type of fantasy is that which can show us a different way, and often a better way. I loved The Lord of the Rings so much not because Gandalf could throw fire at wolves but because Sam and Frodo were the most unlikely of hobbits to be tackling Dark Lords. It is the ability to watch Davids topple Goliaths that I love to read about, and fantasy is the best at presenting that outcome. 

There was no question which of my books would advance to the semi-finals of Fantasy Book Critic's SPFBO 2019 judging. I want to see it advance further and reach the eyes of fantasy lovers everywhere. I think Levi Jacobs could be a big, and perhaps an important, voice in this genre. 

1 comments:

Patrick Samphire said...

I enjoyed this book a lot, but man I really wished it had had a proper copyedit. I find books with too many errors really distracting, and while I thought everything about the actual story was good, I kept being pulled out by mistakes.

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