Much of what I like about The Palace Job, the debut novel by Patrick Weekes, who is known for his work on the Mass Effect video game series, is that while it carries the DNA of the fantasy genre, it adds something I’ve not seen since David Eddings The Belgariad and The Malloreon series, humor.
While Piers Anthony did the same with his long-running Xanth series, it devolved into bad puns and a formulaic structure that made me eventually give up the series around the tenth book (which has ballooned into forty novels as of October of 2016). Even Terry Brooks Shannara series had some humor, but it was the success of the drama filled and very serious Thomas Covenant series by Stephen R. Donaldson and the launch of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series made sure that the humorous fantasy was going to take back seat. Since then we’ve seen many epic fantasy novels from next generation of writers like Brandon Sanderson (who while successful in his early days, won the lottery when he was assigned to finish Jordan’s overlong and very bloated series after that writer passed away in 2007) and George R. R. Martin’s (who had been around for a while, I admit) Song of Ice and Fire series.
I’ve whined for a while that I’ve yet to find a fantasy novel, or series, in my more mature state of mind of my 50s that takes me back to the halcyon days of my late teens and early twenties when writers like Eddings, Brooks, Anthony, Tad Williams where producing fantasy series, while wholly indebted to J.R. Tolken, were still fun. Listen, I have no problem with serious fantasy, but my issue with today’s writers comes from that fact that most of these books are overlong, are sometimes paralyzingly tedious and often got me thinking that publisher needs to get a stronger editor for the writer or anyone else who can help tone down these writers rhetoric and force them to get to the point of the story.
While The Palace Job relies on tropes of the genre, Weekes takes a page from science fiction, and adds a bit modern day social and political issues to make this first book in a series more easily identifiable. So what we get is an Ocean’s Eleven (as its been described), blended with some original ideas along with a great dose of humor and tongue placed well within cheek that pokes fun at the genre as well.
“Loch used to be a soldier but is now serving a prison sentence on the underside of the floating city of Heaven’s Spire, cleaning the crystals that keep it suspended. It’s a dangerous task and the prisoners are not meant to survive it for long, but Loch and her former attendant Kail manage to escape, driven by Loch’s single-minded goal of retrieving a priceless manuscript that will insure them a more than comfortable future. To this end they enlist the help of the most ragtag crew ever imagined: a shape-shifting unicorn and a virgin -bumbling teenager named Dairy; a failed mage with a penchant for illusions; a skilled lock-picker and her gravity-defying companion, and a death priestess, who used to be a love priestess, and her talking warhammer.”
The plot gets a bit complicated as it proceeds and there are a ton of twists that I did not see (though there just as many as I did), but what works for me (again) is that the world Weekes creates is very different from others –it’s some combination of standard fantasy ideas with steampunck tropes thrown in for good measure. And Weekes does not go out of his way to explain how this sort of higher technology that depends on magic actually works, which (for some reason) I found very charming.
Then there is modern politics, class, and racial issues that populate the tale. And while the agenda of Weekes is evident, he does not hit you over the head with his metaphors, though I suspect many of the anti- SJW groups will hate the idea that the hero is female and black.
And while Silestin is really a James Bond villain out to destroy the land for his own profit, in post-2016 elections, he can easily be Donald Trump. His speechifying, his plans, his dark agenda, and backstabbing mirrors a lot of what is currently coming from the president-elects mouth and Washington.
In the end, this is a series I know I will continue. Now I just have to order them.