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Monday, November 21, 2022

The Thirteenth Hour by Trudie Skies (reviewed by Matthew Higgins)

 


Official Author Website
Order The Thirteenth Hour over HERE
 
OFFICIAL AUTHOR WEBSITE: Trudie Skies was born in Nottingham Robin Hood country, she says and now lives in North East England, where she spends the majority of her free time imagining warmer climates and writing about them. Her less-than-free time is also spent behind a computer keyboard as an IT administrator. Previously, she worked as a mobile game designer and tester, as well as a professional writer for video game websites. Trudie grew up on Tamora Pierce and has always wanted to be a swashbuckling knight with her own medieval castle.
 
OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: WHEN THE SAINTS FAIL, THE SINNERS STEP UP.

Cruel gods rule the steam-powered city of Chime, demanding worship and tribute from their mortal subjects. Kayl lost her faith in them long ago, and now seeks to protect vulnerable and downtrodden mortals from their gods’ whims. But when Kayl discovers powers that she didn’t know she had—and destroys a mortal’s soul by accident—she becomes Chime’s most wanted.

Quen’s job was to pursue sinners, until the visions started. Haunted by foreboding images of his beloved city’s destruction, Quen hunts soul-sucking creatures made of aether who prey on its citizens—and Kayl is his number one target.

To ensure Chime’s future, Kayl and Quen must discover the truth of Kayl’s divine abilities before the gods take matters into their own hands.

For a city that bows to cruel gods, it’ll take godless heathens to save it.
 
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS:Y'all Trudie Skies is hillarious. Her book The Thirteenth Hour has such a whimsical, cheeky humour whilst still being darkly adult and i love it's quirky lil soul”.
 
And thus, my review begins with my tweet from about 50% into this transcendent tale…. Really I could just leave it there because that just about sums it up in a neat little bourbon biscuit size package. Job done, time to put my feet up and have a nice spot of tea and a custard cream then eh..... what’s that? You mean there’s a lot more to write? Oh, go on then, you do tempt me so!
 
Yes, this really does sum this book up almost perfectly. It’s a perfectly quasi-British fable with an immense amount of whimsy and wonder. Yet somehow Trudie manages to tie this up perfectly with some deliciously dark (stop thinking about bourbons darn it!) and frankly disturbing content. Quite how Trudie manages to hold it all together I shall never know! But the soul of this book I think is a little like the soul of us all. A dash of childlike awe, a splash of trauma, and one huge lumpful of saccharine coated heart.
 
The heart of this novel comes straight from the relationship between our two main characters Kayl and Quen. Kayl is a member of the godless, a rebel society established to stand in opposition to the gods and their callous desires of the mortals. In a welcome change their focus is less on taking down society and the gods in a reckless fashion, but rather more about looking after those who have been spurned and abused by their god.
 
On the opposite side we have Quentin Corrin, also known simply as Quen. Quen is one of the diviner wardens, those who are in charge of keeping order across the city of Chime and the twelve domains. They claim to be arbiters of the constitution between gods and mortals, protecting both interests, however they are fiercely loyal to the gods and deeply corrupt, leaving the other mortals to face unimaginable acts of torture and abuse if they anger the gods.
 
We start our journey off by watching the hands of fate twist and turn to bring Quen and Kayl into each other’s delightfully quaint company. Kayl is on a mission for the godless, one in which if she fails, her partner Malkevan will surely be taken by the gods and brutally tortured, as well as losing the lives of many other mortal immigrants they’re assisting. As usual Kayl is late…. Quentin Corrin does so hate being late, he is after all a diviner warden, a keeper of time. Precision and order are his constant companions, but this twist of fate will end up in Kayl being one of Chime’s most wanted, and directly into the lap of Quen.
 
Kayl has an amusingly sarcastic, and frenetic inner voice she labels Jinx, which did try to warn her of certain dangers, but alas Kayl, a key founder of the godless, finds herself in partnership with one of the most fervent wardens of all. Quen has an unhealthy scepticism and dislike for godless heathens, and yet he’s always had a soft spot for them in his blessed little heart. Together they must unravel a corrupt conspiracy which has the power to take down Chime and leave the twelve domains in chaos. And Quentin Corrin rather does hate chaos!
 
As mentioned earlier, it is truly the partnership between these two characters, their charming banter, and their growing understanding of one another that is the key to the centre of this whimsical yarn. The book is told from both perspectives, each having their own distinct and bold voice, and yet the cohesiveness of the story is second to none.
 
This book is such a delicate and daring balancing act that I wouldn’t be surprised if Trudie told me she had learnt how to tightrope walk to write this! Both characters have an anxious wit to them, which is the only way to describe their very British sensibilities and style of humour. From the staccato of the prose in frenetic moments of anxiety, to the moments of awkward cringe humour that stems from their anxious personalities, Trudi has characterisation down to a T. But this balancing act comes from the contrast between this very light humour, though sprinkled with a dusted fondant of adult humour as well, and some of the very dark subject matter involved in this book. I mean really guys; I highly recommend going to Trudie’s website for the content warning beforehand. This is by no means a grimdark book, and I am by no means a squeamish reader, but there were some utterly uncomfortable moments of despicable cruelty and abuse which had me squirming on my little leather bike seat as I rode home from work.
 
In this book we see the best and the worst of humanity reflected; but having the two characters of Kayl and Quen as anchors in the turmoil always gave me light, and hope for a better world. It reminded me of the beauty that humanity can bring into the darkness and made me appreciate the little acts of kindness every day. Kayl never gave up, and neither shall I.
 
This is just how much this book made me feel, and it is credit as well to RJ Bayley’s narrative performance in tandem with Trudie’s wordsmith prowess that it hits so hard. Trudie packs the punches, and RJ just rolls with them with a big dose of gusto and welly. These two are the real Kayl and Quen. Not since Kate Reading, Michael Kramer and Robert Jordan have we had such a dynamic partnership between authors and their narrators. I am not ashamed to say I shed a tear at one or two points thanks to RJ’s hauntingly emotional performance. Even writing this, some of these moments are seared in my minds. For about three weeks, these two were the soundtrack to my life, and amidst the darkness of some of the narrative, the strength of the humour pulled me through, and its British eccentricities actually made me proud to be British, and own our little quirks.
 
Trudie manages to capture all sides of the equation, Quen is not simply a rampantly religious bigot, which would have been an easy road to go down, nor is Kayl an anarchistic rebel who wants the downfall of Chime and the domains at any cost. Quen is simply a man who loves order and timeliness, his tea done just right, his entire home comforts, but order is above all else. He has a good and caring heart, and sincerely believes in his role as a warden to protect mortals and uphold the constitution. Kayl is just trying to survive. She wants nothing more than her and her people to be free of the god’s woeful whims. All she wants is to be left alone in peace. I think that’s something we can all relate to.
 
Phew. This one’s getting long already, and I haven’t even spoken about the worldbuilding or the magic! You may have picked up from the mentions already, but this story is set in a world of twelve domains, and a city called Chime. Each of the domains is connected to a different god, with different requirements of their mortals. Valeria is probably the cruellest of the gods, truly a nasty piece of work. There isn’t sufficient time to explore all of the gods in the book, and in fact for a lot of it they are far beyond the main narrative, however their presence is always looming large over the plot.
 
The city of Chime is outside the domains and is seen as a semi safe havens for mortals looking to escape the gods, in effect the mortal domain. It is governed by the covenant between mortals and gods, who pledge not to interfere in Chime’s affairs, however in practice this is never strongly adhered to. The gods rule with cruel impunity.
 
The setting of Chime and the domains are meticulously constructed, each with a unique flourish. Trudie really has thought about every impact different aspects of the world would have on others. This is not something I often encounter in worldbuilding, certainly not to this extent, because it’s not something generally baked into the narrative. But here, in the world of the domains with their focus on timeliness and order it makes perfect sense to have a world where everything has to be in its perfect position or chaos will ensue.
 
There is a fair amount of worldbuilding thrown at you right at the start, constructing the streets of Chime in our minds, and it is a very steampunk/Gaslamp esque vibe. However, the British charm settles you right in, and the details become part of the ride this book takes you on, something to absorb but it is not necessary to remember every scrupulous detail.
 
The magic is also there in the book, but perhaps not in the sense you would imagine. This is certainly not your typical romanticism era fantasy where something fantastical would perhaps be out of place in a world of relative normality, but an utterly and strikingly original creation. Each domain has its own form of mortal, and the twelve sets of mortals all have their own sets of powers. For example, a Necro has healing powers, a Vespa has powers to create shadows, diviners powers over time etc etc. There is also the mysterious unit known as Aether, which is like the blood of Chime, being pumped around to fuel the electricity needs of the citizens. It’s a rather soft magic system, and yet each type of mortal is extremely diverse from the others, for me a perfect blend as I was never confused by finicky details of magic combinations.
 
The central partnership of Kayl and Quen does dominate the narrative as well, but there were also many wonderful side characters ranging from the disgustingly evil to the delightfully ditsy. My favourite side character was probably the raunchy and indeed very randy Malkevan, partner to Kayl, providing many funny moments of humour when he entered the narrative, whilst also bringing the emotional depths when needed.
 
To speak of the depth of this novel, we cover some really heady themes in here, but it never felt like it was grandstanding in any fashion. I mean to give you an idea of just some of the topics we cover, we look at religion, free will, how far would and should you go to save others, and many many more besides. This book will definitely give you a lot to think about, and wonder, what would you do; indeed, what is the right thing to do in some of these situations.  There’s also a fair dash of romance within these pages, but I thought it was very tastefully done, and I normally am not a romance fan!
 
Having said all these wonderful things about why this book is such a fantastic read, what stops it from reaching the heady heights of a 5*? Well, let’s talk a little about the pacing in the book. The first half is incredibly well paced; relentless but not chaotic, plot rich but not character development redundant. The second half didn’t quite hit as well for me, and that was simply because it had too many intense moments and climaxes for my taste. WHAT?! Yes, you read correctly, too much of a good thing can sometimes detract and unfortunately this is what happened in the case of The Thirteenth Hour.
 
I was fully devoted and invested into this novel up to and beyond the 50% mark, things were still pacing along, and there was emotional moment after emotional moment after action moments. After a while, this started to jar on me a little, because I would steel myself for the climax, but the book would still go on for another few hours. There were so many moments the book could’ve chosen to end with, and for those of you who love your fast paced action moments to not let up, alongside devastatingly emotional sequences, this will be for you. However, for me it led to things feeling a little redundant, I wanted to reach the ACTUAL climax!
 
Furthermore, the twists at the end didn’t quite work for me. Whilst they weren’t endings that I guessed beforehand, because this truly becomes an epic scale narrative from quite humble beginnings, I was left with a sort of feeling of ‘huh, wow, ok’. For whatever reason, they just didn’t quite hit with me, and then the end descended into a maelstrom of chaos which was at times difficult to follow along with the audio.
 
However, it didn’t ultimately spoil my experience with this book because everything else hits so hard, and even whilst feeling some of these concerns towards the end, the emotions still did get to me because of the sincerity in RJ’s performance. It was by no means a bad second half, I simply got a little burnout from the excitement of multiple events that felt climactic and then turned out to be just another frantic escapade.
 
 Nevertheless, this book I am almost certain will end on my best of 2022 list and is as close to a 5* as you could possibly get. A pitch perfect mix of quirky Britishisms and deeply intimate emotional resonance. It also leaves you on a bit of a cliffhanger so I eagerly await book two… In about three weeks. Lucky me!
 
In conclusion…. “Y'all Trudie Skies is hillarious. Her book The Thirteenth Hour has such a whimsical, cheeky humour whilst still being darkly adult and I love it's quirky lil soul”.
 
Enough said!

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