For today’s first post I am delighted to be reviewing The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn the first book in the Kingdom of Grit series by Tyler Whitesides. This heist-fantasy was a blast of much needed lightness, particularly this year and was an incredibly fun read.
Disclaimer – I received an e-arc via netgalley in exchange for an honest review
Liar. Thief. Legend.
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.
Discover the start of an epic fantasy trilogy that begins with a heist and quickly explodes into a full-tilt, last ditch plan to save humanity.
The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn (Liar. Thief. Legend) has to be one of the most fun reads I’ve come across this year, it was entertaining from start to finish, with layers within layers of adventure and schemes that keep you reading and plunging headfirst into the next stage. I also can’t start this review without talking about the cover, which was the first thing that caught my attention because it’s absolutely stunning, with that classic fantasy feeling and beautiful colours.
This book isn’t small, and yet the pacing and the plot and its complexities mean that it never feels that long, because it is gripping from the first page to the last. Yet for all the complexities of the plot and the ruses and schemes of Ardor Benn, the story never loses its focus or its core, and Whitesides does an admirable job of bringing that together with action and adventure and making it easily understandable without losing that breadth and depth.
Another strong point for the book is the worldbuilding, from the various religions to the magic system, it is a rich, vividly imagined world that felt as real and believable as the one outside your door. The attention to detail, from single beliefs to more widespread practices from the characters, to the general population are explored and woven into the fabric of the world, without any of those pesky infodumps. They’re living, breathing faiths, that adds another strand to the world and to the experience and motivations of the characters, without becoming overbearing or detracting from the sense of adventure. If the religions are well developed and interwoven, then the magic system is an exercise in ingenuity. I’m always down for anything that involves Dragons, and this has to be one of the most individual takes on something that is a staple of fantasy that I have seen, and I love that the types of ‘Grit’ formed from the Dragon’s excrement vary according to diet, not only because it’s unique, but because it builds it not only into the biology of the Dragons but of the world itself, rather than just having Dragons sat without the world.
However, as strong as the pacing, details and worldbuilding are, I feel it is the characterisation that really makes The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn shine. The twists and turns, the excitement of the heist are all reasons to keep reading, but it is the characters that really bring you into the adventure and the world, and invest you in what is happening. Ardor was a fantastic protagonist, charismatic and with a mouth that could charm the birds out of the trees (if he was a Disney Princess, and not a Thief), and I loved waiting to see what he would say and do next, rooting for his successes and admiring his adaptiveness when things (inevitably) went awry. Raekon is the perfect counterbalance to Ardor, with the skills and intelligence to make those dreams and ruses into reality. Add Quarrah Kai to the mix, and you have one of the most interesting heist groups I’ve read, and I have to say that she was my favourite, as she adds a completely different dimension to their dynamic coming from working alone to being part of the team. As strong as the main characters are, the secondary cast does not lose out, and there is a strength and diversity to them that only deepens and strengthens the rest of the worldbuilding and Whitesides does an excellent job of giving them all individual voices and motivations.
This was a highly entertaining read, with revelations and twists galore that kept you on your toes and holding your breath. It was also light-hearted, with plenty of wit and banter across the pages. Sure there is some violence, as to be expected from a book like this, but it steers clear of the darker stuff and is a much-needed breath of fresh air especially for 2020.
The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn (Kingdom of Grit #1) – Tyler Whitesides – **** (4/5 Stars)
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.