The fleshed-out worldbuilding continues to impress, with hints of powerful ancient civilizations and a multitude of species and cultures. Complex card game rules fold in naturally amid ominous gifts, mysterious conspiracies, and carefully placed reminders of the unresolved problems from the first book. New slang hovers just beyond comprehension, emphasizing the setting’s strangeness. The horror elements found in the previous book are missing here, handily replaced by involved politics and layers of deceit that provide a slightly different, no less enjoyable reading experience.
The timing of events can be a bit confusing, as each chapter’s shifting perspective blurs the duration of the various plot arcs. When the characters come together, though, the action coalesces into a smoothly paced, often surprising tale. Readers will need to keep track of myriad details, but those who succeed in following all the threads will find this a well developed, satisfying, character-driven story that neatly sets the stage for subsequent novels.
Takeaway: Fans of elaborate worldbuilding will be swept up by the combination of heist action and games of chance in this intricate magicless fantasy.
Great for fans of K.J. Parker, Marshall Ryan Maresca.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A
Series Background: (Warning – May contain spoilers from previous books)
The Port of Dockhaven is a strange city on the planet of Ismae, filled with all manner of beings. Although the worlds of science and mythology collided, and the residents may look different, have different skin colours (really different), and have different degrees of intellect, they mingle as one. Aliara Rift is an operative in the Thung Toh, a secret organization that is paid to perform almost any task for those that will pay. She and her lover, Duke Sylandair Imythedralin, recently killed the monster Orono who had owned and abused them most of their lives.
My Synopsis: (No major reveals, but if concerned, skip to My Opinions)
Aliara feels it is time to get back to work. She thinks her body has healed enough after the abuses she put it through while battling Orono. She is quickly given an assignment, but has to work with Dreg, a young and intelligent member of the Thung Toh, but who is impetuous and prone to mistakes. Aliara hires Schmalch to scout out the building they must enter.
Meanwhile Sylandair, during the Sower’s Gala, discovers that a contract has been placed on his head. Not sure who wants him dead, he continues with the festivities, but is alert. He wonders if it is Flark, who owns a large number of properties, and is determined to own the building that Sylandair and Aliara call home. Then again, Sylandair has made more than one enemy in the political and business worlds of his country.
As well, Nihal Savesti has still not been located, and her attempts to recreate Orono’s experiments into immortality could be deadly to everyone. Sylandair is intent on making sure she cannot access the items she needs to complete her undertaking.
Please read the first book in the series before attempting this one. In one way, this new book could be read as a stand-alone novel, but there is so much you would miss….
This series continues to surprise me. Although this is not really my normal genre, I was thrilled when the author approached me again to ask if I would read and review this second book. Jumping for joy is a little beyond me, but I quickly bumped it up to the top of my reading list. So glad I did!
As in the first book, the authors continue to use their vivid imaginations to create a very descriptive tale. I never felt that I didn’t understand something because of the unfamiliar words, characters or creatures. Everything was crystal clear.
The book is filled with non-stop action, and a lot of suspense. There is even a romance angle which I actually like. (Don’t remember that happening in quite some time). I think it is because the love between Sylandair and Aliara seems real. They’ve been through a lot together, and their closeness feels right. All the characters, even those that do not possess many human traits, are interesting. You quickly forget that they have extra limbs, or noses in strange places, or are green….you just know that their part in the book is important.
The book is told from different points of view, and everything flows smoothly.
So, an intriguing plot, vivid imagery, complex characters, and excellent writing combine to give the reader an entertaining read. I loved it, and am looking forward to the next in the series!
*PARTIAL SPOILERS FROM BOOK 1*
A Thung Toh Jig 2, as described, is a sci-fi fantasy action adventure. There is a shortage of horror and terror that was consistently present in Things They Buried, but there is no lack of suspense. Amanda and Michael continue to deliver action-packed escapades and beautiful world-building to their readers!
Duke Sylandair Imythedralyn and Aliara Rift attend the annual Sower’s Festival gala, where political intrigue, overindulgence and deceit run rampant. After her near-death Aliara is eager to return to work with her fellow Toh, unsure of her recent internal renovations and feeling out of place in her own skin. We find Sylandair on the gaming deck at the lyntyyl table, always calculating his surroundings, this time with the long-term interest of preventing the imminent destruction of the home he shares with his mate. Our dear puka Schmalch winds up assisting Aliara with a jig, that inevitably leads him to a peculiar mask we have not seen the last of.
We continue to read from different POV in this book, and I was pleasantly surprised with Idra, Dockhaven’s mayor. It is always impressive when a character I vehemently dislike in book 1 turns into a character whose chapters I really look forward to. Her dramatic flair for political games and sweeping conclusions was very entertaining.
I admit, I ALMOST gave this a 4.5 due to the lack of Haus. As previously indicated, Victuur Haus is one of my favourites from Things They Buried. There is hope he will be featured more in the next book, as Sylandair mentioned what he was up to a few a times.
This novel continues to deliver complex characters, but its true strength lies in the world-building. Readers are presented with a world that manages to feel both familiar and alien. You will never feel displaced in Dockhaven; rather you’ll find yourself consistently intrigued to learn more about its inhabitants. Thank you, Amanda and Michael, for this extraordinary world you have created.
Rating: 5/5 Stars
I read and reviewed Things They Buried, the first book in this series, about a year ago. I was hugely impressed that a debut novel could be so polished and creative, mixing genres seamlessly to create something entirely new. It created a world where genetic manipulation is common, while some things, such as photography, are rare and expensive. The first book had quite a few horror elements to boot, but this book takes an entirely different, but just as effective approach, not suffering a sophomore slump at all.
Starting about a year after the events of Things They Buried, the story starts off in a way I didn't expect: a pirate raid on a ship off the coast of Dockhaven. The ship, a merchant vessel, is carrying a variety of cargo, but apparently has some special items the pirates are looking for: items from a dig in a lost civilization. After getting what they came for, they ensure they will not be identified by any crew, permanently.
We then move to Dockhaven, where we see Sylandair, Duke of Chiv'vastezz, in a high stakes card game with some of the movers and shakers of Dockhaven society, including his rival Flark, who own's the building Sylandair and his mate Aliara, called Rift, live in. Idra, The Mayor of Dockhaven, and another of Sylandair's rivals, is also playing. There is a lot of political and financial intriguing going on with the game, as Flark is trying to influence Idra, who owes substantial loans to Flark, and is holding up other building plans he has. The tension at the table gets especially bad when Flark's minions implode one of his buildings with people still inside it, creating political issues for Idra.
Meanwhile, while the game is going on, Rift agrees to help Dreg, one of the Thung Toh thieves/assassins guild members, on one of his jobs. The job involves breaking into Flark's penthouse, and retrieve shipping guild ledgers, and permanently remove the guild member, now Flark's mate, permanently. In addition, they are to bring a artifact, a Voshar mask, back to Sylandair. The mask is the one thing an enemy from their past needs to enact her evil plan.
While all this is going on, Sylandair is dodging assassination attempts, and when Rift and Dreg return to the party the card game is held at, they end up going with Sylandair, Idra and Flark's ex Daisy to Flark's yacht for a game with higher stakes. What happens there is a crazy series of events, which even the quick witted Sylandair and Rift could not have seen coming, and which leaves them with more questions than answers about certain events in the city. It does present some new opportunities in the future though, as Sylandair and Aliara have some decisions to make.
CHARACTERS AND WORLD BUILDING
This is one of those books that mixes creative characters who push the story along with fantastic world building. The characters from the first book, with the emphasis on Sylandair and Aliara, get more depth throughout the book. Adding a bit more to their backstory, you find out even more clearly how they got where they are, and get a closer look at their decision making process. The events of the previous books have left their mark on them both, and they are still dealing with the trauma, especially Aliara, who's injuries almost killed her. She is unsure if her abilities will return completely, and this doubt really helps makes her a more sympathetic character, while still leaving her to grow back to her strong, resilient self. Sylandair too is a complex character, with strengths and flaws that really make him ring true. The secondary characters are all well written, written as well rounded characters with strengths and flaws, which really helps sell their various stories.
The world building is such a strength of this series. Dockhaven, in my opinion, is one of the best settings in fantasy/sci-fi, on par with the great ones such as Lankhmar, Ankh-Morpork and Sanctuary. It is so well described, you can practically smell the sea salt and feel the wind blowing the stink from the slums. The dichotomy of high tech and low fantasy really shines through, and creates such a unique setting. You really do get a feeling of a hive of scum and villainy, with a thin veneer of gentility over it.
The change in tones between the first and second book could have gone badly wrong if handled by the wrong authors. Fortunately, Amanda and Michael were the right authors, and did an amazing job shifting tones from a sci-fi/ fantasy hybrid with some serious horror elements, to what I think of as a down and dirty Ocean's Eight kind of heist story with an underlying conspiracy. I can see this book appealing to people on both sides of the sci-fi/fantasy divide, and create new fans of both.