It’s been a while since I last sat down to read a high fantasy book, and Hard Luck doesn’t disappoint. It has everything I look for in this genre: Magic, colourful characters, first rate world-building, and a nice gritty undertone that adds a sense of realness despite, well… the elves, if you see what I mean.
The story is set in Rothganar, a place that you are pulled into immediately as the opening scene unfolds in mysticism and a spell gone horribly wrong. The consequences of this short prelude mean very little at first, but you still feel a sense of loss despite that, something I think points to some very skilled writing. Four pages into the book, and I was already emotionally invested.
It stands to reason that in eliciting this sort of response in a new reader, the protagonist is also someone you find yourself immediately attached to. My sympathy for Dingus began from the moment I read his rather unfortunate name, and only swelled further as the full horror of his life became clear. The way the author deals with the prejudice Dingus faces is unapologetic and with such integrity that it brought a lump to my throat, and immediately had me firmly backing her protagonist to the hilt. In a show of yet more skilful writing, the fact that the situation makes you want to jump into the pages of the book and beat the living daylights out of Dingus’ antagonists also makes you immediately cheer for the first appearance of Vandis, a travelling knight who does just that.
Their relationship is one the best I’ve read in a long time, and as Vandis takes Dingus under his proverbial wing, the progression of both characters as the story moves along is masterful. When they are later joined by Kessa, yet another stray with a horrific backstory, the three of them bounce so well against one another that they all come to life in a way I haven’t been privileged to read in quite some time. Their dialogue is spot on, each with a very clear voice and tone, and not ever forced throughout.
On that note, I wanted to address something I’ve seen criticised quite seriously in other reviews, and that is the swearing. Yes, there is a fair amount of cussing throughout, and mostly from Vandis. Vandis is a crusty old knight who quite happily drops the f-bomb, and personally I think it adds to his character that he does so. It would be bizarre for someone of his background and disposition to say “good heavens” or “whoopsie daisy” or whatever, and I don’t really understand why in this day and age, with writers like George Martin sprinkling the dreaded “C U Next Tuesday” like glitter, (So disgust. Much rude. Wow.) that anyone would be offended by such a thing. No one seems bothered by any of the quite vivid violence in the book, or the allusions the paedophilia for that matter, which is surely far more disturbing? These things mentioned, I also don’t understand why anyone would think the swearing is the only reason this book isn’t suitable for children, but apparently that’s just me.
This is not a children’s book. That much is evident before you even finish the prologue to be honest, but as to the parents looking down their noses at this excellent book because of the swearing, I’m afraid I have bad news: If you think your teenager doesn’t swear, you’re living in a fantasy world even more expansive than Rathganar, and that’s truly a grand feat of imagination.
That said, what I do think is important to point out is aside from Vandis’ characterisation, the swearing is there for another quite excellent reason. At the beginning of the book, Dingus is seriously downtrodden, and quite literally at that. He is understandably afraid and nervous, and very meek around others. By the end of the book, however, he is cussing right along with Vandis, and actually at him at one point, laughing and speaking his mind with an ease and comfort that shows the outward signs of his mental healing. If cussing offends you, that’s just fine. We’re all different – personally I’m very offended by beetroot, and I’ve yet to find anyone else who shares my deep revulsion for it – and that’s just fine. What isn’t fine is trash talking an excellent author for your own quirks, and implying that their differing use of language to yours shows some kind of want of skill or talent.
The book is far and away one of my favourite reads in the genre for quite some time now, and I can’t wait to jump back into the story for more of these fantastically written and intricate characters. The Saga of Menyoral has another three books currently available for consumption, and I would very strongly encourage anyone who enjoys bold, brassy fantasy to go and check them out