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Sunday, June 9, 2019

Quill by AC Cobble (reviewed by David Stewart & Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order Quill over HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: AC Cobble is the author of the Benjamin Ashwood and Cartographer series.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: A heinous murder in a small village reveals a terrible truth. Sorcery, once thought dead in Enhover, is not. Evidence of an occult ritual and human sacrifice proves that dark power has been called upon again. Twisting threads of clues lead across the known world to the end of a vast empire, and then, the trail returns home. 

Duke Oliver Wellesley, son of the king, cartographer, and adventurer, has better things to do than investigate a murder in a sleepy fishing hamlet. For Crown and Company, though, he goes where he’s told. As the investigation leads to deeper and darker places, he’ll be forced to confront the horrific spectres rising from the shadows of his past. When faced with the truth, will he sacrifice what is necessary to survive? 

Samantha serves a Church that claims to no longer need her skills. She’s apprenticed to a priest-assassin that no one knows. Driven by a mad prophecy, her mentor has prepared her for a battle with ultimate darkness, except, sorcery is dead. When all is at stake, can she call upon an arcane craft the rest of the world has forgotten? 

FORMAT/INFO: Quill is 539 pages long divided over fifty-two chapters.This is the first volume of The Cartographer series. 

The book was self-published by the author on June 1st, 2019 and is available in print or as an e-book. 

ANALYSIS (David): Quill is a new type of fantasy for me, but one that I feel has been lacking in my life. I have a fondness for the colonial periods of our world history, despite the innumerable horrors inflicted upon native peoples during the imperialist rampage. There is a sense of adventure and discovery to this time period that is unique an era when humanity learned how to sail but had not yet discovered how to do it safely. The metaphorical unfurling of the world map must have been exciting in ways that perhaps future generations will feel about space travel. AC Cobble, in his first Cartographer book, captures this sense of adventure, but instills it with magic and floating islands and spirits, and it is a successful merging of these ideas. Quill has its fair share of flaws, some that niggled at me more than others, but on the whole, I think it is well worth reading, and I am eager to see where it goes. 

Oliver Wellesley is a rake, albeit one with royal blood. When he isn't bedding nubile noble twins, he's out mapping the world, and to his credit he is good at his job (on both accounts). Oliver's father is the king of fantasy England, a land called Enhover, and it is apparent from the start that Cobble's world-building is strongly dependent on its parallels to our own. This was, in fact, such a strong component of the setting that I was worried it would reflect too much our own history. Thankfully, my initial misgivings were soothed and Cobble does eventually set his world apart. In structure, it very much looks like 18th century Europe, but there are enough details to give it its own flavor, and this is vital to this type of work.

The beginning of Quill begins with a grisly murder, and Oliver is called on to investigate it due to the noble personages involved. The Church of Enhover, a very Roman Catholic-like institution, sends its "Priestess" Samantha along with him. There is sorcery involved, and the Church's role in Cobble's world is one of stamping down the magic arts in favor of faith. There is an immediate repoire between Oliver and Sam, and though there are some banter-jokes between them that fall extremely flat (such as a joke about the title of Duke and whether it's a name or not), their relationship evolves into one of depth that is engaging to follow. They make a good team, and it isn't long before they are both wrapped up in a massive conspiracy involving the crown, the church, and the fate of sorcery itself. 

I like quite a bit about Quill. It completely captures the adventurous spirit of the colonial age, to the point where I found myself smiling as characters would look out on the horizon at some new landscape, wishing I too were on that airship discovering new lands. The amount of exploration is limited to places that, at least, Oliver has already visited, but the spirit is there, and I hope to see more exploration in further novels in the series. Quill is set up as a murder mystery, but by the end it is clear that there is a larger story at work here, and Cobble has a multitude of options open to him in exploring his built world. 

There are also aspects of Quill that I found difficult to stomach. Cobble calls the book sexy on his website, in comparison to his other works, but I found much of the sexual descriptions downright pornographic. I have no qualms with this, it just did not fit the rest of the narrative very well and felt disharmonic. The character of Sam is also consistently put down and derided, despite proving herself time and time again, and while I understand this is a novel set in an parallel era when women were seen as little more than objects, I still cringed every time someone called Sam "girl." It happens more times than I could count. And this is fantasy, a fantasy where a woman fairly easily becomes captain of an airship and where the clergy seem to be held in high esteem. Calling one of the main characters "girl" over and over again does not feel in line with the world. Aside from that, the writing itself is not without flaw, and there were many times throughout the book that I saw the absence of professional editing. It is self-published, but that isn't necessarily a free pass when it comes to mistakes and syntax errors. 

ANALYSIS (MIHIR): I was attracted to Quill for three main reasons, firstly that it was a conspiracy thriller in the fantasy mode and secondly because of the underpinnings of the story as mentioned by the author in our interview: 
- “I spent a lot of time considering the implications for these cultures before/after colonial rule”, 
- “there is a lighter nautical theme in my book. There are ships, airships, and even pirates”. 
Lastly the series title which hints at the occupation of one of the protagonists, combined with my love of maps, I knew I HAD to read this book.

We have our two protagonist Duke Oliver Wellesley, a rake with a good heart and a cartographer to boot. Then there’s Samantha, apprentice priestess to Priest Thotham and a badass of her own might. We begin the story with these two and these two only come together because of a horrific murder. Things soon take a turn for the worse as the murder turns out to be related to the dark arts that have been outlawed. Things just spiral from there and our two protagonists find themselves swinging from location to location going down the rabbit hole and trying to make sense of it all.

This story was a real fast read and it very much read like a conspiracy thriller. The plot really takes off from the opening pages and with each POV change we are taken further and further down the rabbit hole. I liked this aspect and with the fast pace, there are quite a few twists within the story as well. The author also gives us protagonists who are refreshing good natured and its fun to see them spar. There’s a mild romantic angle that’s set up and I hope the author explores it in the sequels. Lastly the action is more on a personal level and so there’s not much to be found for those looking on an epic scale. But there’s enough hints and scenes provided within to keep the readers entertained.

There are a couple of things about this book that didn’t click for me. Particularly the world building which is there but only hinted at. Perhaps this was done for the expediency of the plot pace but I’m hoping the author reveals more in the sequels because the world is a very intriguing one. Lastly the author had mentioned this book was about the after effects of colonialism and I wish there was more about this as it would have brought a more interesting angle than the one presented. The author focuses on religion and secret societies as a means of the repressed to get back at their oppressors and I can’t wait to see what happens next as the ending is a mild cliffhanger.

Overall I really enjoyed AC Cobble’s writing style and the way this book ended, I wanted to read what happens next immediately. I think that’s a solid sign of AC’s ability to get readers hooked in. As a reader I don’t think I can ask more of an author. AC Cobble showcases himself as a writer to watch out for with his mix of thriller stories within a fantasy lens, read Quill to see why both David & I enjoyed it thoroughly.

CONCLUSION (DAVID): As I said, I liked Quill, and I would read more of this world that Cobble is building (cobbling?). It strikes a nice balance between world-building and plot, and the main characters are genuinely likable and worth following. There are enough unique fantasy hooks to make this stand out, and the setting is almost untouched in the genre even if it remains very Euro-centric in its roots. 



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