Overall Series Rating: 9.0/10
Ardor Benn is no ordinary thief. Rakish, ambitious, and master of wildly complex heists, he styles himself a Ruse Artist Extraordinaire. Sometimes, Ardor bites off more than he can chew, but with the help if his longtime partner-in-crime/best friend Raek and their newfound associate GIRL he can accomplish anything. At least, that is what Ardor thinks. But what if the stakes were raised? Can Ardor and his crew perform with the fate of the world on the line?
I picked up The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn after seeing it pop up on a few other reviewers’ lists, and, honestly, I was a little unsure in the beginning. Much of the Kingdom of Grit series relies on three things: the idea of grit making sense as a magic system, a plot that is compelling enough to hold the interest of the reader, and Ardor Benn’s charisma being relatable – and it ended up hitting all three notes. The Kingdom of Grit series is a magical, action-packed journey that had me on my seat from the first word to the last. Let us get into the details.
Characters – Three’s Company
I mentioned Ardor Benn above, and it is clear he is the main character. The often charming, sometimes brash, and always scheming main protagonist breathes life into this story with his boldness. He is always after the big play and never short on confidence, even when the chips are down. And in his quest for always trying to do the right thing, Ardor makes you believe, even when you think there is nothing to believe in.
Of course, Ardor Benn could not make his schemes work without help. Raek, his best friend and partner in crime for most of his life, does a lot of the dirty work: mixing grit, causing distractions, building traps, handling security, etc. You name it, he does it. Raek also serves as a bit of a sounding board for Ardor: someone he can bounce ideas off of and refine his thoughts, but who also brings his own propositions to the table. Raek makes for the perfect first mate.
Quarrah is the third member of Ardor’s crew. Master lock-picker and thief extraordinaire, she is a new addition to the group. She came recommended in the first book when Ardor was hired to steal the crown off the king’s head (a task that needed her very specific set of skills to be successful). Of course, she not only proves herself quickly as a valuable member of the crew but brings her own perspective, as well. Quarrah’s depth and knowledge make her the perfect person to round out the main character set.
There are many minor characters, as well, some which are re-appearing – Disguise artists, priests, villains, warriors, royalty, etc – all of which are important for making everything work. Every single one of them brings a necessary piece of the puzzle. This character set is incredibly well-written, and I love what each and every one of them means to the story.
Plot – Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop
Speaking of the story, I want to address the plot without getting into too much detail so as not to be spoilery. Here is what you need to know: buckle up, because this series has a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, no-holds-barred, what-just-happened kind of plot. The schemes are complex, with many complications along the way. Each plot starts off as interesting enough in its own right, but the escapades (thank you, Caitlin) just get deeper and more intricate as the story progresses. The books play out like inception for con artists: a ruse inside a heist wrapped in another ruse, and the coin just keeps rotating until you do not know what is real and what is not. There are so many twists and turns my head was constantly spinning (in a good way). I love the kind of story that keeps me guessing all the way through, and the Kingdom of Grit is that to the max. Of course, everything is revealed in the end in quite a satisfactory way.
One aspect of the story that came up for me a few times was that the plots are so complicated it is easy to find a few holes here and there. Also, there are a few times when the story relies on luck or circumstance to further the plot (as opposed to skill and wit), and I think that can bother a few people. I looked at this a couple of different ways: Ardor and his crew oftentimes put themselves in situations where they might be favored if they had to rely on luck, and sometimes I just said to myself “who cares? This is a fun series, sit back and enjoy the ride”. That is my advice to you, as well. Do not take this series too seriously (hats off to Jake for the discussion on this). Enjoy it for what it is as the story bulldozes along and let it pull you along with.
Magic – Now With More Grit (and Dragons!)
The magic system (what they call “grit”) is incredibly unique, as I have never seen anything like it. I was unsure how I would feel about it in the beginning, being such a different and new concept. The author allows the reader to experience it right away, as Ardor and Raek are trapped in a precarious situation and are forced to use grit to get out of it. Grit itself is a physical manifestation of magic. It is an ignitable powder that can be used to do produce various results, depending on the substance that is used. Some types of grit can create a protective barrier or a weightless cloud. Others blow things up or create light. Certain types of grit even erase memory. There are many more uses for grit, and that continues to expound throughout the series. Basically, anything magic can do in a more standard fantasy way, grit can do – it just has to be physically processed and ignited. The way the grit is processed is ingenious, though I am not going to tell you everything. Just know that it involves dragons. And while it may not be too spoilery to talk about in detail, because, if I remember correctly, you find out early on what the deal is, I just do not want to take away the feeling you will get of learning about it for the first time. It was an awesome moment for me. This may have been an excuse just to introduce dragons into the story, but I do not mind. Because DRAGONS! Once I got used to how grit worked and all of the various uses for it, I ended up loving it as a magic system.
World Building – Where in the World Is Ardor Benn?
The world building was the weakest aspect of the series, to me. Not that is was particularly bad, but in my opinion it was kind of just in the background, for the most part (no pun intended). There are certain plot points (and one really big one) where the setting becomes important, and the author gives some history, but the overall world is never really expounded upon. Honestly, though, I think in every book something has to give. Not everything can be front-and-center, and the author choosing the setting for that made role made sense in this series.
This series started as a curiosity to me and turned into a great read. From the interesting characters to the compelling and complex storyline that does not stop and a magic system that is as unique as I have ever seen, it is just plain fun all the way through. I loved The Kingdom of Grit, and I think you might, too. It gets my stamp of approval, and I recommend it for fantasy fans.