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Thursday, January 16, 2020

SPFBO Finalist: Fortune's Fool by Angela Boord (reviewed by David Stewart, Justine Bergman, Lukasz Przywoski and Mihir Wanchoo)






Official Author Website
Order Fortune's Fool over HERE (US) and HERE (UK)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Angela Boord published a handful of short stories in the early 00s, then had a bunch of kids who are now all sleeping at night, making it easier to write again. She lives in northwestern Mississippi with her husband and their nine kids, plus two dogs, one cat, and varying numbers of chickens. She is currently hard at work on more books in the Eterean Empire series and plans to release Book 1.5 in early 2020.



FORMAT/INFO: Fortune's Fool is 737 pages divided over six parts and a total of 37 numbered chapters, and is the first installment in the Eterean Empire series. The book is currently available in e-book and paperback format, as well as on Kindle Unlimited. It was self-published by the author on June 25, 2019. Cover art by John Anthony Di Giovianni and cover design by Shawn T. King.

CLASSIFICATION: Epic fantasy, Romantic fantasy

JUSTINE

A girl and an illusion of love.
A girl betrayed.
A girl punished and maimed and scorned.
A woman and a reckoning.

Kyrra d’Aliente, sole heir of the Aliente House, falls victim to the charms of Cassis di Prinze. Now a pariah within her household, she's cast into the dirt to appease the mighty Prinze. Mutilated and cursed to a life of serfdom, she lives her days under the mocking ridicule of the Household, but one day is lifted from the dirt by a mysterious gavaro. Kyrra No-Name of House Aliente uncovers a plot that will expose the man she loves, stripping her of the only thing she desires. Taking matters into her own hands, she becomes the sacrificial lamb to appease the mighty Prinze. He cannot bear the thought of life without her, and against the judging verdict, they flee into the unknown. Kyrra No-Name of Nothing is the last of a dead House destroyed by war and the machinations of the mighty Prinze. Bestowed with an arm of metal and magic, posing as a man and mercenary, submitting to the darkness, she has one goal: tear down the mighty PrinzeEveryone has a name.

Fortune's Fool is an immaculate character-driven epic fantasy, governed by vengeance and the need to protect that of which you love by any means necessary. At its core, this novel is the tale of a romance that eclipses the injustices of the past, and paves the path to the future of a righted world. Kyrra No-Name, continuously used as a means to an end, broken and shunned, and finally freed by a man with gray eyes and cloaked origins, she must find her place in the world, and her purpose. Her mind aching for retribution battles her heart yearning for acceptance, and she is soon thrusted into a life defined by inverses: loyalty and deceit, love and betrayal, sacrifice and survival. With twists and turns, scheming, and the ever-daunting unknown, Boord drops us onto the board of a grand and deadly game of chess completely shadowed by uncertainty. All we can hope for is justice where justice is due.
"I suppose you have a right to be wary of wolves, but just because you're fallen, do you think it means you have to stay down in the dirt?"
Boord has created something incredibly beautiful with her debut, and I'm finding it difficult to put into words my praise for the splendor she has penned onto page. The writing is exquisite; meticulously immersing you in a world that is extraordinarily rich and vibrant. Descriptions of textiles you can feel beneath your fingertips, exotic foods you can smell on the warm breeze, pain and torment that twist your heart - it's easy to lose yourself in Eterea. Her ability to alternate timelines and tense is impeccable, highlighting Kyrra's past and budding relationship with Arsenault, then her present path of vengeance, done so with smooth, subtle transitions and a continuous flow. The prose is striking and polished, the pacing perfectly builds tension, the foreshadowing haunting. Of all the things done exceedingly well, her ability to tell a story is peerless. Boord is a master when it comes to plotting, as this story is layer upon layer upon layer of cohesive history and unrevealed intrigue. Peeling back the layers and diving deeper into this complex story is one gratifying and worthwhile adventure.

As mentioned, the characters take center stage in this novel, with major focus on both Kyrra and Arsenault. All conflict stems from their choices and actions, and they each inevitably suffer the consequences. Following Kyrra's disgrace and subsequent ruin, Arsenault enters her life, and changes it forever in many, and oftentimes initially reluctant, ways. Despite the half-truths and veiled secrets, their growth is based solely on the other, bringing them together, rather than tearing them apart as expected. He gifts her with a piece of herself that's missing, and a confidence once shattered, while she aids him in mending his fractured memories, and allowing him a closeness he thought lost forever - they each make the other whole. Their relationship is raw, fiercely profound, and something truly special to behold.

Further, we witness the development and transformation of a well-rounded cast of characters. Geoffre di Prinze is the epitome of a deceptive villain, his true intentions unclear until it's too late. He's the puppet master behind the curtain, pulling the strings of all the powerful families to achieve his goals with no regard for collateral damage. Lobardin and Jon are seemingly duplicitous and abusive players in the grand game, but the masks they wear are only to deliver them the endgame. Mikelo is a young man with no direction, but he possesses an intense power within himself that others can only envy. Much like her plotting, her characters are intricate, each distinct with cryptic pasts that become untangled as we continue to journey alongside them. I'm excited to see more of these characters and their progression in the future of this series.
"Hunter," he said. "And Sacrifice. In you, the two are combined. You choose which road you follow, with which vision you will see. Your heart will always be your own."
A novel of this size allows for a gradual enrichment of the world being built around you, and Boord does just that by carefully placing one building block at a time without overwhelming the reader. She has infused an Italian-inspired province with spiteful gods, mysterious magics, and wonderfully realized settings. We're transported from quaint countryside villas, to airy mountainside hunting lodges, to bustling and bloated city marketplaces, to secretive underground hovels, each brimming with their own populace, and trades, and secrets. I would speak more of this, but her world is one best discovering yourself.

CONCLUSION: I can't praise this story enough, as it's honestly one of the best things I've read in a long while. Let me be clear, this is a romance imbued with the fantastical, and what a beautiful and magical romance it is. Fortune's Fool is an amazing foundation for Boord’s Eterean Empire series, and while it closes nicely, I cannot wait to see where we're taken next. I highly recommend.

DAVID


The longer I sit with Fortune's Fool, the more I appreciate it. There is a maturity to its craft that is not that common - an obvious commitment to the act of writing as opposed to writing whatever might catch on and be popular. This is not to say that Fortune's Fool wouldn't catch on in the mainstream fantasy community, the Renaissance background and rakish nature of its characters, as well as its romance, have wide appeal, but Fortune's Fool strikes me as something that will burn steadily in the mind of its reader, like Robin Hobb's novels. These aren't books to be rushed, but savored and appreciated and thought of long after the final page has been turned. 

What I most enjoyed with Fortune's Fool were its details and its structure. Boord has a way of calling back, time and again, to certain pieces of imagery. The presence of silk is consistently returned to, both for imagery purposes and because silk is so important to the family of the book's lead character, Kyrra. Boord's ability to use the vital components of a character's life as metaphor and background is impressive. I also enjoyed the way in which the novel was structured, with chapters almost always bouncing from past to present, pushing a current story forward while giving the impetus for its movement in that backstory. This is not an uncommon method, but Boord's use of it is flawless and purposeful. We know from the start that Kyrra loses an arm and gains a new one - full metal - and the entire time we are reading her backstory we know that the moment is coming where she gains that new prosthetic. But Boord manages to create a tense suspense in the delaying of that moment that is a difficult feat to perform. 


On the whole, I really liked Fortune's Fool and like it more as distance grows between the book and I. My only complaints with it were that it was a tad long, and this is an odd complaint because I don't feel as though the book was padded, and I frankly couldn't find spots that would have needed any kind of editing (the entire thing is technically flawless). It just felt like it was all taking quite a while to progress. I also had some issues with the ending and Boord's use of the supernatural in a story that was so beautifully human. I'll be curious how she deals with her deities in the next book, but I almost wish she would have left them largely out of this one. I liked them well enough until they were too present. Regardless, Fortune's Fool is a book that belongs in these finals, and I can easily see it winning the whole thing. 

ŁUKASZ

I admit, and there’s no shame to it, that once I got the book, I found its page count daunting. At 737 pages, Fortune’s Fool is terrifying. I love novellas and short fiction. I consider 350 pages enough to tell an engaging story. When I hear people raving about over 500 pages of roaring fun, I turn and run in the opposite direction.

Because I had to read it, I took a deep breath, explained my dog there wouldn’t be any walks for a week, and started reading. And couldn’t put the thing down.

Fortune’ Fool is a great book, don’t let its length intimidate you!

Plot & Structure

Fortune’s Fool is a Renaissance-inspired epic fantasy about a woman who’s lost almost everything–her family, the man she loves, even her right arm. People blame her for starting a war. When we meet her, she has a magical metal arm forged for her by her lover, who disappeared without a trace. Kyrra d’Aliente wants revenge and nothing will stop her from serving it.

The book is told in 1st person using two narratives–one in the past and one in the present. It influences the pacing - when you really want to know what happens next, the narrative skips to the past to explain how and why things happen. A bit frustrating, yes. But also very immersive as the chapters describing the past pack plenty of twists and emotions.

After finishing the book, I appreciate the structure - it made the story layered and emotionally engaging.

Characters

We get the whole story filtered through Kyrra's point of view. I loved her as a lead character - despite her tragic past she’s maintained a dry sense of humor and the willingness to live. She makes a lot of mistakes, but she’s also more than capable. Secondary characters, especially Arsenault, shine as well. They feel distinct, well-rounded, and human. Because we learn about secondary characters through Kyrra’s eyes, they remain mysterious. A good thing, I guess.

Point of view

As a huge fan of the first-person POV, I enjoyed Kyrra’s narration. Brood has a knack for delivering a nuanced and intimate portrayal of emotions and thoughts and communicates them effectively. She delivers Kyrra’s anger, love, hopes, fears, and despair with maximum impact.

Setting

Fortune’s Fool is a historical fantasy, set in a made-up world inspired by Renaissance Italy. The world has a strong Mediterranean feel that distinguishes it from typical Western-European settings. Even though the author describes her world in detail, she communicates all the relevant information without infodumps. Everything feels natural, even the intricacies of silk production.

That said, the beginning can feel unclear as Boord throws the reader into the deep end with all the different Houses and how they relate to each other/the world. It gets easier to grasp the farther you get into it. The magic remains mysterious and unexplained and that makes it even more intriguing.

Voice/tone 

The tone is grim. Thanks to Kyrra’s dry sense of humor, things never turn nihilistic, but don’t let it fool you - it’s not a joyous world.

Timing/pacing

Here’s the thing. Fortune’s Fool tells an ambitious and complex story in a secondary world. Things take time before they start making sense. As a result, the pacing may feel off in the beginning. It blends moments of introspection and despair with action-packed sequences and succeeds at creating an immersive story

That said, I wouldn’t mind seeing it lose some weight. The problem? I’m not sure which parts I would cut.

In closing

Fortune’s Fool is an excellent book. Well-written, smart, complex, it finds a good balance between the plotline, world-building, and character development. It demands a level of trust from a busy reader hesitant to start such a big book, but I feel it rewards the time-investment.

MIHIR

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Fortune’s Fool is a grand venture make no mistake of it. Even though it’s Angela Boord’ debut story, it’s a tale that marks out the grand ambitions of the author, the characters & the story itself.  I started the story with almost no expectations and then I understood why Justine and Lukasz were so gung-ho about it.

Let’s start with the obvious, this debut has three glorious things going for it:

-        Characterization

-        Worldbuilding

-        Plot/story structure

Beginning with the characterization, this story is primarily about Kyrra (Kyris) & Arsenault and we are shown everything about them. But the author slowly unveils all there is to them and goes the “show don’t tell” route. Even though it’s Kyrra who’s the main character, Arsenault is the key linchpin to her character’s growth. Throughout both the timelines presented, Kyrra is presented and we get to see how she became Kyris and got her metal arm. It’s through these two characters that we get to see the evolution of the entire story.

Next up is the world and this I believe is the strongest feature of this book. The world settings are more in line with Southern Italy and the Mediterranean coastline and the author does her best to give the readers a slice into everything from the food, the landscape, the geography and every other thing possible. The immersion is so intense that you instantly get transported into the world and as a worldbuilding junkie, I love it when this happens.

Lastly, with the story structure, we get dual timelines and I love it when the author can give us a story that’s rousing on both fronts (past and the present). The story begins with the present but the key lies in the past and the author gives us the story on both the timelines. I love how the author unfolded the story and even though we know the main reason why Kyrra has a silver arm in the first 20% of the story. But that’s not everything, The story has mysteries in both timelines and they unfold slowly. The past affects the present and the present explains the past. Both timelines are crucial to the main plot and kudos to the author for making them both so intriguing.

If I were to criticize this book, the only fault I can think of is the languid pace. The story takes a really long time to get going and eventually to its terrific climax. With this book being over 550 pages, the pace is really the key issue and that being said, I can see many readers being turned off. One reason for this could be that because the author manages to give us such a beautiful world and spectacular characterization, that perhaps is a reason for the pace being what it is. Overall this book is an amazing debut and one that will be one to watch in the SPFBO finals.


CONCLUSION: Fortune's Fool is a grand epic fantasy debut that showcases all that Angela Boord has to offer. It's one hell of a story with all the trappings that make it a spectacular one in my mind. Be sure to check it out and see why all of us at Fantasy Book Critic think of it so glowingly.


SPFBO Final Score




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