Review: The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn (Kingdom of Grit #1) by Tyler Whitesides

Rating: 9/10

Synopsis

Ardor Benn is no ordinary thief. Rakish, ambitious, and master of wildly complex heists, he styles himself a Ruse Artist Extraordinaire.

When a priest hires him for the most daring ruse yet, Ardor knows he’ll need more than quick wit and sleight of hand. Assembling a dream team of forgers, disguisers, schemers, and thieves, he sets out to steal from the most powerful king the realm has ever known.

But it soon becomes clear there’s more at stake than fame and glory -Ard and his team might just be the last hope for human civilization. 

Review

Welcome to the Greater Chain—a place where everything is run on Grit, dragon poo, that has differing properties based on what the beast is fed; now meet Ardor Benn, ruse artist extraordinaire, who uses said poo-turned-Grit, to pull the wool over the eyes of his marks. Only, this time, it’ll be the ruse to end all ruses. To say this book is fun, would be an understatement. Though, it certainly knows when to pull its punches. Ard is probably one of the most instantly likeable characters I’ve ever come across—the Grit ‘magic’ system one of those most original I’ve seen as of late (if only for from where it is derived.) The prose is lyrical, easy to read and happy go lucky, but it’ll certainly have you on the edge of your seat, shedding a tear or two, and certainly rooting for our main cast. Whitesides has produced an exciting series which I can’t wait to add to my book shelf.

I don’t know whether I would say the plot was fast-paced, but I would perhaps say that it is intriguing enough to put up a facade (to pull a ruse on the reader) that it’s moving quickly, because I finished this chonk of a book—some nearly 800 pages—in little under a week. Speedy by my standards. It is certainly intelligent which by that I mean I don’t know how Whitesides coped with such a complex plot but still managed to make it understandable, enjoyable and awe-inspiring; now, the book is a set of complex ruses by the man himself, Ardor Benn, using Grit. The sheer ingenuity of this made-up magic system that pairs well with a man like Ard blew me away. Outwardly, each type of Grit serves a functional, mundane (in most cases) purpose, but with a little intelligence, and careful mixing from Raek—the brains to Ard’s plots—they pull off some ridiculous stunts. And let’s not even get into what happens on the island of dragons, Pekal …

For me, this book is all about the characters. While the plot and the ruses were indeed central to the book, it was Ardor, Raekon and Quarrah that kept me reading and reading. Even in an epic fantasy book, the ruses and tricks have to be seated in the believable and for the most part, seated in just how believably the characters can pull them off. Ardor is a smooth, silky and slick crafter of words, sentences—he is the dreamer with which those thoughts are fuel for his most powerful weapon: his mouth. Ard is believably charismatic, a man the reader is led to trust, that all would get behind, if he had a chance to talk to them. Then there’s Raek, who is quite simply the man who makes the dreams happen; Ard’s right-hand man, a genius of Grit, a scientist. And last (by no means not least) Quarrah Kai, thief extraordinaire. There is no item too difficult to steal. A woman who can size up a room in minutes and pick a lock she can’t see, without the proper equipment, in seconds. Put together, there is no ruse too big. Not even one positioned to steal from the king himself. The way in which these characters interact with each other, get close—some more than others—is spectacularly human, utterly believable, and is the magic behind this book.

A special note has to go to the world-building and in particular the pervasive religions that drive the characters. The most prominent in the Greater Chains is Wayfarism and it is the urgings of the Homeland within this that cleverly intersperse various plot points. It ties the characters together, the usage of Grit, the beliefs behind some special types of the prior. From singular beliefs, to the practice of the religion, there’s nothing left to thought. The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn displays real intelligence at its base level and that is why it was such a joy to read.

Overall, my advice is go out and buy it on release day. Make sure you’ve got it on your shelf, read it as carefully and lovingly as it is crafted. It deserves that. And thanks goes to Orbit for the copy, you’re great. This book is the most ambitious of ruses and I dare say that Whiteside has certainly pulled it off. Will you fall for it?

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