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Friday, January 7, 2011

"The Hawk and His Boy" by Christopher Bunn (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Order "The Hawk and His Boy" HERE

INTRODUCTION: "One night in the city of Hearne, a young thief named Jute is instructed to break into a wizard's house and steal an old wooden box. It sounds like a straightforward job. Climb down the chimney, creep through the house, find the thing and get out fast. Unbeknownst to the boy, however, the box contains the knife that killed the Wind. Overcome with curiosity, Jute opens the box and sets off a chain of events that soon has him on the run from the wizard, his old masters in the Thieves Guild, and their client, who happens to be the Lord of Darkness himself. On his odyssey of escape, Jute is aided by an unlikely assortment of friends, including a guilt-ridden assassin, a reluctant wizard, and a hawk who just might be able to teach him how to fly. But the Darkness will do anything to find Jute, even if it means plunging the whole land into war."

The debut of the independent Tormay fantasy trilogy, of which both next books are written and in editing with plans to be published in 2011, The Hawk and His Boy was a big positive surprise for me.

I found out about it from a review inquiry on FBC and while the blurb seemed standard, though on the intriguing side for me, I checked the online Amazon sample and I really liked what I read there so I bought the ebook and it immediately moved to the top of my reading list. I felt compelled to turn the next page when finishing the current one, so I read it in almost one sitting the first moment in recent times I had some extended reading time/energy and I am really looking forward to the next two books. I also included it as a later addition in my 2010 recommended novels.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The blurb above does not really do justice to the complexity of the tale that starts in "The Hawk and His Boy". Jute's thread while reasonably well described is only a part of a tapestry that contains - a rogue scholar/wizard, a mysterious woman, a young noble who dreams of her ancestors and may have magic powers on her own as she seems to understand the living world, a nasty death-dealing creature, a young girl that survived an attack that destroyed her village, an officer of the city guard and more.

Starting the novel I expected a storyline in the vein of recent young thief offerings - some of which I quite enjoyed - and then when Levoreth Callas the niece and heir of Duke Dolan of a remote semi-independent province, made her appearance with her dreams about the past and her famed namesake, a long ago heroine of legend, I thought, well we will have two threads, one with the boy and one with the girl...

Imagine my surprise when more and more characters started appearing and having their own threads, the rogue scholar Nio, the dreaded assassin Ronan "The Knife" who actually dreams only of retiring to his birthplace and the rest. There are missing books of magic, a past conflict that pitted wizards against the secular power allied with mysterious dark forces, conflict that may reverberate/rekindle today, a magic system based on the four elements and words of power and overall much more depth than I expected.

The first book is in some ways an introduction with stuff starting to happen and plot-lines introduced, but the book achieves a great sense of balance and I never felt the scatter in other similar many-threaded books. There are no narrative walls and the threads transitions are handled so well, you never notice it, while the prose flows smoothly. I cannot emphasize how important an achievement is this since way too many books that started promising quickly foundered on either too much scatter or too much focus on one storyline at the expense of others.

Despite being an independent book, I never really noticed editing problems - there may be some but nothing that jars or throws one out of the story - and to my surprise I enjoyed this one considerably more than I expected. The one niggle is that the world building is a bit naive and idealistic - dukes hanging out with farmers and such - but no more than in most fantasies with a similar pre-industrial setting, so it was not a big deal.

Exuberant and entertaining writing, memorable characters and generally interesting setting with much expansion potential - are things that catapult a novel to favorite, "I want next book now" status, and "The Hawk and His Boy" has them...

The ending arrives at a good stopping point in most threads though the book needs the next installments for full appreciation since it is not a "series standalone" but a clear first chapter in a large novel. The good news is that the next books will be available soon, with The Shadow at the Gate expected early this year and the conclusion later in 2011, so a huge bonus here of a complete series in a short time.

The Hawk and His Boy (A+) is quite traditional fantasy but very interesting and with surprising depth while the series has great potential *if the next two books keep delivering* - now the high expectations kick in for me and as noted quite a few times that is always double-edged. On the plus side though I know that when the author releases The Shadow at the Gate, I plan to read it as soon as I can...


K.C. May said...

This looks great! I'm going to give it a try. Thanks!

Doug H. said...

Thanks for the review. After reading your praise for "The Hawk and His Boy" I purchased the book in faith, and was very pleased. I could barely put it down.... thanks for turning me on to this series!

Liviu said...

I am happy you liked it; I love the sequel too and I am curious when the third and presumably last installment will be published


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