The last time we saw our band of heroic scoundrels they had narrowly avoided a disaster that would have plunged their world into war, and now – just a few months after those fateful events – they seem to be headed toward a worse one. And by ‘worse’ I mean an even more breathless, avalanche-like sequence of events, because while The Palace Job focused on a difficult, dangerous heist, here we can enjoy a whole series of them, all linked by the need to beat the group’s antagonist at his own game, a game that keeps changing its rules. But let’s proceed with order…
Our rogues have done their best to settle down to a more-or-less normal way of life, although – and here is one of the best ideas of the book – many of them are suffering from something akin to post-traumatic stress, especially Kail and Desidora: the former because he’s still processing the injury of mind-control who forced him to hurt his friends, the latter because she feels something fundamental is missing since she returned to being a love priestess instead of a death priestess, as if she were mourning those same powers of darkness she was so afraid of.
There is no time, however, to dwell too long on one’s troubles, or to enjoy a budding romantic relationship – as is the case for Tern and Hessler – because, literally from page one, Loch and Kail find themselves in a dangerous situation that starts as a diplomatic mission and rapidly turns into a hunt for a convenient scapegoat (Loch, of course – no surprise here) and the beginning of a war between the Republic and the neighboring Empire.
The characters (and so the readers) are plunged into this new adventure with no warning, and the fact that no effort is required to recall who they are and what they can do, shows the author’s skills in shaping his creations, so that both he and his audience can jump aboard this rollercoaster right away, and enjoy the ride. And what a ride it is… Our beloved rascals are faced with very determined enemies and a constantly evolving situation that made me think of a game whose rules keep changing, forcing the group to shift their approach and strategies just as quickly.
Princess Veiled Lightning is the most determined of those opponents, and I was constantly amused by her sudden appearance in the most unexpected moments, adding a further element of humorous danger to already complicated situations: there is an almost-cartoonish flavor to these instances that balances out the drama in a way that’s however never forced. I don’t use the word ‘cartoonish’ in a deprecating way here, but rather in admiration of the author’s seamless, balanced blend of light and darkness: I have rarely encountered such a successful combination, or the capacity to sustain it for the length of a book.
Veiled Lightning is flanked by her bodyguard Gentle Thunder (interesting choice of names here…) who wields the magical axe Arikayurichi that, like the ancient hammer Ghylspwr in possession of Desidora, holds the spirit of one of the Ancients – and speaks the same four sentences with varied shades of meaning. Then there is the elf Irrethelathlialann, immediately dubbed “Ethel” by Kail: he leads the group into a mad chase where fights, double crossings and traps within traps keep rolling out at a frantic pace – the epitome of the bad guy graced with intelligence and cunning. And what of the Knights of Gedesar? A band of hard mercenaries with an impossible score of victories obtained through merciless strength, who however always seem to be stymied by our heroes…
The cast of characters is varied and colorful, and so is the background in which the story unfolds: we travel through the lands of the dwarves, a well-ordered, polite society through which Loch’s group passes like the whirlwind, leaving mayhem in its wake; we fly by arboreal floating ship through the elvish domains, learning more about them and their puzzled aversion of humans. But above all we are taken through a series of adventures that go from a museum robbery to a train heist (I could not help comparing this one to a similar episode of Firefly, thinking how much I enjoyed them both) to a heated suf-gesuf card game with high stakes that holds all the flavor, and back-stabbing maneuvers, of Casino Royale. And let’s not forget the zombies!!!
There is not one single moment in which The Prophecy Con lets down on its rhythm: fractioning the group into various units with different purposes makes for a rapid change of scene and a constant cranking of tension that’s alleviated only through the clever use of humor. What I found most engaging here is that some of the comedic elements keep repeating (Kail’s mother jokes or his need to name the ship they’re flying on; Ghylspwr’s incomprehensible four sentences; Kail berating Icy for his non-violence vow; and so on…) and yet they never feel stale or overused. I believe the author has, by now, led his audience to expect them, and we would be sadly disappointed if he did not accommodate us…
I can’t resist the temptation of sharing two quotes from the irrepressible Kail – of course they are mother jokes. What else?
“Can you get any faster'” Pyvic asked.
“Yes, I’m just choosing to go this speed because your mother likes it when I take my time!”
“Thought these guys were though.” Kail slammed a stolen mace into the helmet of the knight who’d dropped to one knee. “What’s the matter, guys? Did I leave your mothers too tired to make you breakfast this morning?”
Add to all that some amazing, well-choreographed fight scenes, a series of twists, turns and changes in perspective that can leave you somewhat dizzy, and several unexpected revelations, and you have a compelling, breathless story that keeps you glued to the page and engaged from beginning to end.
Truly, I could not ask more from a book. If this kind of progression keeps up in the next one in this series, I know I will be in for a great experience.