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Tuesday, November 15, 2022

SPFBO Finalist review: The Thirteenth Hour by Trudie Skies (reviewed by Jennifer, Jonathan, Lukasz, Michael & Mihir)



Book links: AmazonGoodreads

AUTHOR INFO: Trudie Skies has been living inside fantasy worlds ever since she discovered that reality doesn’t quite live up to the hype. Through the magic of books, she wishes to share these worlds of hope and heroes with other weary souls. Living in North East England, Trudie spends most of her free time daydreaming about clouds, devouring whatever fantasy books or video games she can get her hands on, and chasing after her troublesome dogs, who would like to reassure you they are very good boys.

You can chat with Trudie on Twitter @TrudieSkies

Publication Date: October 13, 2021 Publisher: Trudie Skies Page Count: 535 Formats: audiobook, ebook, paperback

JEN

The Cruel God’s is one of the neatest worlds, I have dipped into recently. It has a Gaslamp/steampunky feel and I thought it lent itself well to the world, which is set-up like a clock, with each hour as a separate god’s domain and inhabited by their own people. Each of these races are unique to their God, and have special requirements or magics; Embers can summon flames, Diviners can read minds, the Amnae have gills… and you get the picture.

 Access to each realm is only available through a gate in the center- in the neutral area called Chime. This neutral ground is the base of the Godless – whose numbers are made up from the disillusioned and mistreated runaways of the others.
It’s very cool and harsh, place, and I am simplifying it to the max, because I could talk about the world and its many varied-peoples all day.

 The story begins with an in-world mystery to do with elemental kind of beings called Aethers, attacking and draining the energy from their victims, but things are way more complicated, and grander, than a simple string of murders- leading to Quentin and Kayl, having to work together.


The first thirty-percent of The Cruel God’s has a steep learning curve. There is major world-building and even though most is in a drop-in learn as you go sort of style, there is also a fair amount in the form of epigraphs with details on the peoples that make up the land, doctrines- including the commandments handed down by the gods and other insights from papers submitted by academics and so forth. 

Usually, I like epigraphs for filling in world-details and to add depth to the world, or to give you an idea where things went wrong etc. but these were pretty heavily-filled and occasionally repetitive, as we also learn some of it in the body of the story.

The info does taper-off as the story gets on its way and it’s all good times after that (also the frenemies plot kicks in about that time and I do love when people have to set-aside differences, to work together).  

*

So, our two main pov characters are on opposite side of the coin Kayl – one of the Godless, fights for better conditions and to protect people from the cruelty of their God’s whims.

While Quen, is a warden, whose job it is to bring justice to people like Kayl- who among their perceived crimes- are breaking their Gods rules, denouncing them, and promoting discontent etc.

I liked that they were both in first person, gaining us a look at their motivations and because they’re working for opposite sides, it rounds out our view of the worldly things, quite nicely.

 I can’t say either Quentin, or Kayl, stole my heart, but I’m not entirely sure they were supposed to- they were very complicated, full of gray type of characters.


Quentin, is seemingly walking the line between doing what his job expects from him and trying to help without getting caught-up in anything that could cause trouble for himself because not many people have the courage to outright buck the system like Kayl and co are trying to do.

I enjoyed the tension in the later chapter with him; the worrying he may get caught, while constantly wondering if it mattered, because whose side is he really on anyway?

Kayl- is passionate about her cause and argues it incessantly. You never doubt her motives, though later you may doubt the execution of her motives in her quest for justice. 

The neatest thing about Kayl was her gift. Her ability gives us a rather unique way to introduce us to more of the inhabitants that make up the world. (This was one place where I would have preferred more of this form of introducing us to the world’s inhabitants and less of it in the epigraphs and notes.) 

*
I did find the theological/right and wrong, back and forth, between Kayl and Quen, and the reinforcing of just how cruel the gods are- a bit exhausting after a while. It dampened the story for me just a little. And while I don’t think they should have easily forgotten their viewpoints to make room for the others, it did begin to feel for awhile, that all they were going to be as characters- is an opposite side of the coin. 

There were things about the characters that gave me pause; questionable choices, and just plain-old questions about personal things that had me thinking, but why? Especially toward the back-end of the story where everything comes to a boil and got slightly muddled for me- I wasn’t sure I understood everything.
I do admit some of these answers could have gotten lost in the earlier world-building and/or twisty back-end plot so ymmv there.


Minor stuff aside- on the whole, this was just a very original world, and fun plot. In just under 500 pages, it managed to pack in an astounding amount of world-building, interesting characters, and a world changing/mystery plot. Definitely worth checking out.

Other notes- 

The clock-map insert, looks like one of those cool adult colouring pages and I think that Trudi Skies should have prints to give away for all promo events.


JONATHAN

Located at the nexus of the twelve realms of the gods, the city of Chime exists in harmony and a place where mortals of every realm can come to live freely. Well, not really. Into a lopsided caste system come Kayl, a Vesper thief and vagabond and member of the Godless—mortals who have forsaken their patron God—and Quentin, a Diviner Warden charged with maintaining the increasingly-fractured peace. Twisted together by fate, both soon discover that nothing about Chime, the Gods, and even themselves is what they thought it was.

I think the first thing that is going to leap out to readers here is the unique spin on the world and the astounding detail applied therein. It’s really a fascinating construct, that gets no less so the deeper into the story one gets. For all its gleam and shine, Chime is also a grim city, with a lot of ugliness under the veneer. This is also a tale that isn’t afraid to tackle hard subjects, including racism, religious fanaticism, sexual assault, and the morality of one’s origins, and deals with them all pretty well. The twin protagonists Kayl and Quen are pretty likable and easy for the reader to relate to. The secondary cast members are diverse and distinct and overall, the prose flows well.

I do have to say I found the characters made consistently inconsistent and foolish decisions (such as walking into blindingly obvious traps with little hesitation), especially late in the story. Also, the pace felt uneven to me, starting quick, hitting a middle slower section, and then accelerating at the end.


Even so, I still enjoyed this story and I'll look for the next one in the series. It’s captivating and should appeal to anyone who likes steampunk, multi-POV stories, and dark stories.

ŁUKASZ

Cool cover, I thought, before diving into the story. Initially, I was confused but intrigued. Then confusion turned into amazement. The story is unique, and it’s trying to do something fresh. 

Set in a secondary world influenced by Edwardian aesthetics, The Thirteenth Hour can be classified as Gaslamp Fantasy. Twelve omnipotent gods have complete control over their domains and the mortal races created in their image. Domains and their inhabitants are radically different. Travelers can reach them only through a magical portal called The Gate, located in the steampunk city of Chime

Twelve races include the red-skinned Ember who can summon flame, bird-like Zephyr who can fly, or elve-like Vesper, who can summon and manipulate shadows. Necro can manipulate the physical body (but also feel an appetite for flesh). Diviners manipulate time and also explore the past and future of those they touch. 

TL; DR: Twelve gods, twelve domains, twelve races. All cool.

The story revolves around the mystery of soul-sucking creatures made of aether. The main protagonist, Kayl, becomes the primary suspect of Quen, a Warden with impressive time-manipulation skills. After unexpected discoveries, the two team up to solve the mystery (involving the world, their pasts, and their nature). We follow the plot through the first-person points of view of Kayl and Quen. An interesting choice. Initially, it felt slightly confusing, but each of them was different and had a distinct voice. No chance of mistaking their chapters.

Kayl is a Vesper. She considers herself godless and wants to live an independent life free from her god’s whims. She’s also flirty and emotional. Plus, it seems she has rather unique magical abilities. As a Diviner, Quen can manipulate time (pause, rewind it, see the future, and deaths, of mortals he touches). He is a member of the Wardens, the police force of Chime. He loves tea and biscuits and is rather charming. 

The author charged their interactions with painful history, and their relationship oscillates between conflict and cooperation. And maybe something spicier. There are a lot of fascinating side characters here but I don’t want to write an essay no one will read. Suffice to say, the secondary characters feel well-rounded and fleshed out strongly enough to make me interested in reading spin-offs from their POVs.

The emphasis on world-building usually turns me off, but in this case, it almost worked for me. I found the world exciting, but there’s a steep learning curve here to understand how it all works. In consequence, parts of the book are slow and inflated with backstories/histories. Because the world awed me, I didn’t mind that much, though. Still, shameless exposition significantly slowed down the pacing so have that in mind.

A few words about gods. They’re a nasty bunch. They are horrifying, bloodthirsty, and powerful beyond measure, with totally alien ways of reasoning. They own the souls of mortals and can “extinguish” them in an instant. Blasphemy and apostasy are crimes, and committing them has dire consequences. 

Skies brings the sights, sounds, and smells of Chime to life with crisp prose that moves swiftly between thrilling action sequences and imaginative worldbuilding. Equal parts dark and entertaining, The Thirteenth Hour tells a satisfying and imaginative story. 

MICHAEL

AIGH! 

Ok, I was supposed to write this a while ago and got distracted by things and stuff, and so here it is a tad late. As in the group review has already been posted. So…I’ll keep this short.

First impressions: There’s a ton of stuff at the beginning of the book explaining the world and the gods and whatnot. As a general rule, I never read that stuff cuz that’s not what I want to read. Just gimme the story and throw that background info at the end. For me, the problem with it being up front is that it suggests the author put it there because they couldn’t be bothered (or failed) to work it into the story. Basically, it says to me, “I put this here because you won’t understand the book otherwise.” It is the ultimate lazy-ass info-dump. 

Happily, in this case, I was wrong. I didn’t need to read any of that to understand the story.

And now to something more like an actual review.

This was one of the better-written SPFBO books I’ve read so far. The prose was smooth and never got in the way. Dialogue was snappy and fast. The world-building was the book’s real strength. I’m generally not a fan of Gaslamp fantasy, but I enjoyed the inventiveness of this one. The main characters were likeable, but I failed to really click with any of them. 

This was an enjoyable read, and I’d highly recommend it to fans of inventive Gaslamp fantasy.

 MIHIR

The Thirteenth Hour is Trudie Skies' adult fantasy debut and one whose worldbuilding is perhaps the most unique in all of the SPFBO 8 finalists. The city of Chime is the central nexus through which the various races spawned by the twelve gods. These gods are capricious and cruel similar to the old Greek ones. However here they control a lot of their faith adherents lives. To be an agnostic is unthinkable as the presence of the divine is everywhere. To be an athiest, well that's a whole another level of suicidal behaviour.

Kayl is one such denizen who has (rightfully) lost her faith and pretty much is thrust into the main plot by accidently doing something impossible. Quen a warden is thrust into the search for her as he's also trying to stave off the apolcaplyse which he has nightmares about frequently. This is the basic plot which kicks off the story.

What I really enjoyed about this story was how the author brought the city of Chime to life as well the different divine landscapes. Trudie really creates a unique world with enough Victorian charm that keeps it grounded for the readers while keeping up the weird fantastical elements. I loved the worldbuilding aspect the most about this story and often it kept me going even when the plot pace slowed down. The main POV characters are Quen & Kayl and they both written distinctly. They both have specific plans and  their actions are very much inherently based on their heart's desires.  Though some might find their actions repetitive, they make sense from a psychological perspective. Also the secondary character cast is also a strong one and it is exciting to see their actions further impact the story.

Overall the worldbuilding, main plot,  the characterization were the book's main strengths and while the plot pace is definitely a concern, it wasn't such a big negative.  The Thirteenth Hour is a distinctive story that combines unique worldbuilding and an exciting plot. This is for those readers who are tired of the same stories, Trudie Skies has done us a huge favour, go check this out now.


OFFICIAL SPFBO RATING



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