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Fantasy Review: ‘Reaper’s Challenge’ by T.J. Dipple

Let me start by saying that I enjoyed this book.  It had some flaws and was very simple, and the review I am about to write will discuss several of said flaws.  But I want it to be understood that I truly did like a lot of this book; it was quick paced, had some original ideas and a better ending than it appeared to be heading for.

This is a fantasy novel focused on the city guard of a city called Kavernhive.  Kavernhive is a city protected at night by the haze, a bunch of glowing orange balls that keep people from dying violent deaths.  Following an elite group of guards called the Blades, conflict comes to the city when a murderer has found a way around the haze and seems intent on bringing down the cities protection all together.  Rookie guard ‘Recruit’ joins the blades in their search for the killer.  A secondary plotline involves the Blades long running dispute with the cities assassin guild (now a requirement in every fantasy city).

Don’t look to close or the whole thing falls apart.  The haze is a very cool idea with some logical inconsistencies; the how and when it heals specifically lost me.  The need for such a substantial guard when there is a lack of violent crime also confused.  How a long running war is kept going when nights are off limits, well there are some leaps of faith needed to buy the idea of the haze.

It is also hard to buy into just how elite a guard unite the Blades are.  At one time it is mentioned by an enemy that it would take at least four men per Blade to fight them; indeed they consistently fought much greater numbers and won.  This isn’t a ‘Best of the Best’ unit that takes established guards that have proven themselves; they are just awesome by luck.  Recruit is brought in immediately after basic training.  Throw in the just as elite female Valkyrie unit (who are around just long enough to hook up with the Blades) and the entire city watch dynamic gets a little hazy (oh,  inadvertent pun!).

Toss in some unconvincing politics: A king says “I cannot order you to take down the guild.  Do you hear me? I can’t do it,” and his nobles don’t smell out the oh so subtle hidden meaning.  Add some language issues, including a whole lot of people saying “Reaper’s Balls!”  There are some definite negatives to the book that keep me from recommending it for everyone.  Yet I said I enjoyed it, and I did.  So here is why.

When not trying to pick apart what the haze is I can admit the author stays pretty consistent in its use, and it is an interesting dynamic.  The characters are pretty one dimensional, but have some pretty decent interactions with each other.  The book moves very quickly, and while easy to read may not be the best compliment sometimes it is a positive depending on mood.  And after what appeared to be an anticlimactic ending the story escalated fairly naturally into something with even greater stakes, and did so well.   So while I can’t recommend this book for everyone, neither will I tell people to stay away completely.  This book would probably be best for those looking for manly men doing manly things in a short number of pages; perhaps while waiting for the latest Warhammer book.

3 stars

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