This is a double You Should Read, a feature that is mostly in my drafts folder more than actually published in my blog. A lot of the time it’s because I’m not sure what I want to say about a book besides “This story blew my mind / was awesome / was cool / so good that I wish I could write like this!” and that doesn’t make much for a blog post.
With these two books however, The City Stained Red by Sam Sykes, and Rat Queens written by Kurtis J. Wiebe say something about fantasy books and comic books that I can hone in on in a similar way I did not expect.
What makes fantasy so enticing these days is the subversion of tropes. Martin subverts the hero in A Song of Ice and Fire, Joe Abercrombie subverts the gathering of unlikely parties for a quest to save the world in The First Law books, but these two books do it differently.
Starting with The City Stained Red, Sam Sykes, like Scott Lynch does in The Lies of Locke Lamora, injects his world with lovable, likeable, snarky, and sarcastic jerks. In the city of Cier’Djaal everyone has a mouth of them despite the seriousness of the situation. Unlike mercenaries, adventurers like Lenk and his gang are considered lower than prostitutes in respectability in this world, which I have dubbed Lenkworld, Simple there to get paid a foot war of rival gangs are killing each other, one of those gangs wants to resurrect a dead god king, and all the characters are having revelations about themselves. All the while characters, and not just the main characters, have insults, quips, banter, retorts, wisecracks, and witticisms on their lips on every page. It isn’t overdone though, working more like a buffer to the darker parts underneath. There’s a sickness in this city as Gariath, a dragonman, puts it. The system is manipulated by the equivalent of the upper class and the crime organizations. The humans, being the only species welcome in Cier’Djall, are bigoted against everyone who isn’t them in this city. Our heroes all are struggling with guilt, love, acceptance, and identity while trying to survive in this city when all hell breaks loose. It is rare, like The Lies of Locke Lamora is rare, that a book can be both funny and tragic but Sam Sykes does it well. What makes it different from …Lamora is the suffering his characters are going through internally.
An added bonus, I had no idea this was part of an ongoing series. It is the beginning of a new trilogy continuing from a previous trilogy. I was ninety percent through the book when I found that out and had no struggle with backstory or history by not (yet) reading those previous books.
Rat Queens, written by Kurtis J. Wiebe, drawn by Roc Upchurch until autumn 2014 then drawn by Stjepan Šejić, uses humor with his characters similar to Sykes. The Rat Queens, adventurers like Lenk & his gang, are rowdy, boisterous, abrasive, ale drinking, drug taking, candy eating, magic using, sword fighting, law breaking, and sexually open women looking to get paid and for their place in the world. It’s a coming-of-age tale seeded into a Dungeon & Dragon campaign where our heroes are dealing with issues of relationships, body imagery, tradition, & families all the while having mouths like a group of truck drivers. While the book has high stake adventures and drama the foundation of the series lies upon the friendship between the Rat Queens.
Go, read it now.