Travis M. Riddle has once again given us a unique and imaginative tale. As one might expect, given Riddle’s earlier works, Spit and Song is an intensely personal story. It follows Kali, an aspiring merchant, and Puk, a down and out musician addicted to the titular spit. Set in the same world as Balam, Spring it recaptures much of that novel’s wonder and intricate worldbuilding while being entirely fresh and standalone.
One of the first things that helps Spit and Song distinguish itself is the character voice. Both Kali and Puk receive viewpoints, and Riddle has given them both distinctive voices. This aids in the use of the two characters as foils for one another. The interaction between them, both in terms of the story and in terms of the technical aspects of crafting the story, creates tension and allows for multiple perspectives on the same sorts of issues. This novel shines in its personal feel. It’s a story about fears, joys, accomplishments, and growth. It excels at making you feel for the characters on the page, aching for their pain and understanding whence it comes. There is a whimsical, fantastical nature to the world as well, but also a seriousness or realness to the characters. Kali’s struggle to be something, to make something of herself is incredibly relatable. Puk is almost the opposite, caring little for who he is and finding solace for his pain in fire-spit, his drug of choice. Their struggles are real and honest and play off of one another. Part of the reason this all works so well is because it’s set against the backdrop of a unique fantasy world. Riddle doesn’t waste time with tired tropes, castles and knights. Rather, he gives us a world populated with wonderful and unique races. From the bug like centripts to cities built in the skeleton of a miles-long dragon to airships and ayote (reptilian mounts suited to desert travel), the novel is vast, deep, and engagingly unique. The worldbuilding is what you might expect to find in an epic fantasy tome, but here it is used to tell a far more intimate story. This engaging yarn is wonderfully relatable while the character development is wrapped in a series of mishaps and errors that make you both laugh and ache for the two main characters.
There are some elements that won’t appeal to everyone. The first is that the novel gets off to a very slow start. Those who aren’t fans of slow setups may find the first half of the novel trying. Riddle is setting up the characters and story here, but it does move slowly in the first half, as character stories often do. The payoff is tremendously fleshed out characters, but those looking for a blockbuster movie-like first half won’t find it. A more objective weakness is that there are some clunky turns of phrase throughout the novel. These weren’t egregious, but every once in awhile one did jar me out of the story a little.
The Dark Crystal meets Final Fantasy IX. Spit and Song is a whimsical, comical tale that is intensely personal in scope. Sure to appeal to fans of character-driven fantasy, Travis Riddle’s latest hits for me. There is a sense of wonder to the world and story akin to classics like The Neverending Story. Riddle tells stories that mean something, that challenge expectations, and that take place in richly crafted worlds. Spit and Song is no exception.
This is the fourth book I've read by Travis M. Riddle at this point and it's also the fourth book of Riddle's that I've sort of loved. I'm not sure exactly how he does it, but Riddle certainly knows how to create a fantastic story.
Spit and Song takes place in the same world as Balam, Spring, but it acts as a standalone and there's no need to read Balam, Spring prior to reading this one (though you really should because it's fantastic). If you have read Balam and enjoyed it, but wish there was more adventure, then Spit and Song is going to be exactly what you're looking for. Spit and Song takes the fantasy world charm and intricate world-building from Balam, Spring and adds a heavy dose of adventure, mischief, and intrigue to make this a warm and welcoming yet also exciting and unpredictable book. I particularly enjoyed getting to explore more of this world and experience a variety of settings compared to the single setting of Balam, as well being able to go deeper into some ideas that were only briefly mentioned about this world prior.
Spit and Song is split POV between Kali and Puk which worked wonderfully and brought the perfect amount of variety and differing perspectives to the story. One of our main characters, Puk, is a qarm and a struggling musician trying to get by in life while also maintaining an addiction to the popular drug called spit. Puk is enormously endearing and despite his occasionally questionable choices that make you want to scold him, he has a charismatic attitude that also makes you want to see what he can do with his life because of how much potential seems to be simmering beneath the surface of his lackadaisical exterior.
The other main character that we follow is a faif named Kali who is currently working as a merchant and who has great future aspirations to become a traveling merchant that gets to travel to an abundance of far-off places and explore countless new things.Kali is extremely relatable in her desire to become something more than she is right now. She doesn't just want to be an average merchant, she wants to be something bigger and better than that and I found that desire was something that both drove her own actions in the story as well as helped to further the plot due to her willingness to take on a new adventure with Puk.
Kali and Puk were both characters that I loved getting to know and also getting behind in their journey--I couldn't help but constantly root for them and look forward to whatever adventurous event would happen next. They both have pretty different personalities and outlooks on life, but something about them together as a team fits perfectly and they couldn't be better suited to work together (well, maybe a little, but they really are a perfect team). There's a good deal of wit and humor that develops within their dialogue and interactions, which only added more depth and enjoyment to their friendship.
Spit and Song has a very steady pace that tends to lean more towards the slow side than a fast-paced one, but I personally thought it worked really well with the story and that the pacing was perfect. I also felt that Riddle incorporate a lot of great themes, morals, and ideas into his story in some really natural and flowing ways. This might be a story about two individuals traveling to track down something for a black market job, but it's also a story about following dreams, overcoming obstacles, hitting rock bottom, taking a leap of faith, and challenging expectations. And it's a hell of a lot of fun!
Overall, I've given Spit and Song five stars! If you loved Balam, Spring, you'll love this one too! If you haven't read Balam, Spring, then go read both of these books and you can thank me later.
Spit and Song is one of the most original stories I’ve read in a long time and that’s why I loved it so much. It flies in the face of so many of the conventional fantasy tropes, almost as if Travis Riddle has deliberately set out to invert everything the fantasy genre expects. Perhaps it is deliberate! Perhaps he’s a revolutionary on a quest to change the world. He’s succeeding if so!
Spit and Song is a buddy story. For such a thing to work you need two characters who are not only very different to one another but share enough common ground to get along – the audience need to love them. You can’t help but love Kali and Puk. The story is told from both their perspectives and Riddle cleverly captures their distinctive voices and sustains them throughout.
What is a significant achievement and turned this into a five star rating for me, is that neither character is human. In fact, you couldn’t get more alien I don’t think! The challenge for the writer here is a complex one. Not only are you faced with defining your protagonists but you also need to create a world in which they fit, a world where everything is different. You have to define their physical appearance but beyond that, their physiology too. That is not something required when the protagonist is a human being. Riddle makes the challenge even greater by using two protagonists who are entirely different races – different physically, socially, culturally. And these two characters need to form a symbiosis that sustains them through their adventures.
Riddle dedicates the book to himself because, ‘this book was damn hard to write’. As a writer myself, I understand why. It’s not just that we have wonderfully vivid characters in this story – there are so many, all of them weird and highly original. (Such as one character who is spherical, with spindly legs and a mouth that takes up most of his body!) It’s not just that every location is so clearly defined that you can imagine yourself being there. It’s not just that these locations are filled with creatures, food and drink, songs, stories and myths – I could go on. You become immersed in this rich and original story.
I’m going to finish my review by quoting a comment from another of Riddle’s novels. It’s from Justine Bergman, reviewer at Fantasy Book Critic. ‘We need more of this. Fantasy isn’t just magic, battles et al. It’s about the newness of things. About the strange things you’ll never get to see, to feel. To taste and to read.’
Justine is absolutely right. We do need more of Travis Riddle’s imagination. He’s a revolutionary in this genre and I’m glad he is!
Kali is a merchant who longs to travel the world, trading good and seeing the sights. Puk is a musician with a drug addiction who has hit rock-bottom and finds himself stranded in an unfamiliar city with no way back home. A chance meeting and an illicit job opportunity bring the unlikely pair together on an epic journey that could change both their lives.
As usual, I am blown away by Travis’ originality. The creatures in this book are like nothing I’ve seen before. Set in the same world as Balam, Spring, there are one or two familiar species, but also many more completely new and unique ones. The world-building, scenes and characters and all brilliantly developed, so the entire thing is very easy to picture while reading.
The plot is a little bit slow-paced, but this isn’t a bad thing. The story focuses much more on the journey Kali and Puk embark on, rather than their destination. They spend a fair amount of time making plans and preparations, discussing their ambitions in life and singing songs. However, there are still some pretty action-packed parts along the way.
The characters are brilliant. I loved Puk – he was rude and sarcastic but extremely likeable, while Kali had a good amount of attitude as well. My favourite character by far, though, was Voya the ujath.
The only thing I didn’t really need was all the very detailed descriptions of the different food items the characters consumed throughout the book. These were just a little distracting and unnecessary to me but, that being said, it was wonderful to see just how much thought the author had put into every element of the story.