I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review: my thanks for this opportunity.
The long-developing, all-out conflict brewing in Ordshaw is about to flare up, and nobody is inclined to take prisoners. This could very well sum up the situation in the third and final installment of Phil Williams’ Ordshaw trilogy. And to think that it all started, quite prosaically, with the theft of some money…
Pax Kuranes used to be a gifted poker player, moving from seedy venue to seedy venue to earn a living through her skill with cards, but everything went upside down one night when, after she won a considerable sum that could tide her over for a while, a young thief stole her earnings and Pax, following the trail of that money, stumbled on a book that changed her life forever. The book contained a huge amount of sketches of weird, scary creatures of a Lovecraftian nature, but they were not the product of an inventive – if deranged – mind, because under the surface of the city of Ordshaw another world lurked, filled with strange beings.
This is how this story began, two books ago, and since then Pax has learned that monsters roam the tunnels under her city and that the Fae not only exist but were exiled from those same tunnels by the fearsome beasts: she’s not the only human possessing that knowledge though, because a government agency, the MEE, is also monitoring the situation and a few civilians have, over the years, made forays into Ordshaw’s bowels. After clashing with, and then befriending, the feisty Fae Letty and coming into contact with a few Ministry agents, like the level-headed Sam Ward or the oily Cano Casaria, Pax finds herself enmeshed into a very complicated situation where everyone’s survival is threatened not only by the monstrous horde dwelling in Ordshaw’s bowels, but by years of misunderstandings between the factions and by purposely disseminated lies that have kept them from uniting against the real danger.
Having gained – or maybe brought to the surface – the ability to sense the underground creatures, Pax knows she must do all she can to avoid disaster and here she keeps running against time, false accusations and people intent on killing her, to help her city and her newfound friends survive. No matter the cost.
Much as this series features a number of interesting characters, the story it narrates is above all Pax’s journey of transformation, from average person intent on making ends meet from day to day to selfless heroine: what’s extraordinary though is that she does so without losing her street-gained common sense or her endearing abrasiveness. Which makes Pax the perfect counterpart for Letty, the foul-mouthed, wildly aggressive Fae who defies every kind of trope about such creatures and in so doing becomes one of the best characters in this series, and the one whose chapters I always eagerly anticipated.
And female characters are indeed the best – and best crafted – in this series, rising over their male counterparts in a significant way: not only Pax and Letty, but also Holly Burton, the wife of one of the bumbling adventurers who explored the city’s underground tunnels: in the course of these three books she grew from an angry spouse, suspicious of her husband’s mysterious activities, into one of the most dedicated players in the complex game, able to hold her own even against the senior Ministry functionary assigned to the case; or again Sam Ward, whose keen curiosity had driven her superiors to relegate her in a clerical position, until circumstances finally afford her to show her mettle. The men, sadly, fall quite short of such bright examples, like Chief Obrington, who takes a long time to emerge from his political obtuseness, or field agent Cano Casaria, whose dedication to the job is marred by a too-high consideration of himself and a strong belief in his appeal to women. Even though, I must admit, he takes a turn for the better in the end.
The city of Ordshaw deserves a special mention as well, because it gave me the strangest vibes and little by little it gained its own personality just as much as the living beings inhabiting it: the most peculiar impression I gained was that it was more alive in its lower, hidden levels than in the surface ones – granted, the tunnels where the monsters dwell are dark, damp, scary places where the only light comes from the eerie luminescence of the creatures, and yet it feels… alive, no matter that it’s with the kind of life no one in their right mind would ever encounter. The Fae city, on the other hand, is far from scary, because of its hive-like architecture that resembles that of a human city writ small – with neon signs and advertising billboards, theaters and office buildings, and everywhere flying Fae of every shape and color. The city of Ordshaw proper, though, comes across as somewhat deserted, as if its people preferred to stay indoors and go out only when strictly necessary, and I wondered more than once if that was because of some subliminal signal coming from the dangerous underground. I realize it’s a weird notion, but I could not shake it, no matter how much I tried…
I realize I have not said much about the story in this final book of the trilogy, but it was a conscious choice: there is so much happening, so many twists and turns, discoveries and betrayals, that to talk about them would be a disservice. Even though the story might appear a little confusing at time – or at least it was for me, given the great number of interlacing threads – everything falls into place in the end, and lays the foundation for new stories that might already be in the making, continuing this engaging journey.
Look out for The Violent Fae from November 5th!