Edwayn Sattler is a half-dwarf with a beard and a dead end job. One night when serving drinks to the city’s rich and famous, a fiery playboy loses control of his magic and goes on a burning rampage. After some ill-advised heroics aided by the magic that lives in Edwayn’s beard, he finds himself unemployed and socially exiled. With no other job or friends to fall back to, he signs on with an inscrutable ratman sporting a badge and a fetching hat, and together they dive beard and whiskers first into a magical murder conspiracy that threatens to consume the city.
Armed with sub-par wits, a dry sense of humor, and a handful of magical tricks, Edwayn encounters conflagrating cops, smooth-talking trolls, shadowy corporate enforcers, and an air-headed vixen with a fatalistic streak. When his easy-going life spirals into a thrilling, darkly hilarious tale of intrigue and deception, Edwayn will find out just how close this newfound chaos will trim his beard.
Chaos Trims My Beard is my second Fantasy Noir in a pretty short space of time (the first being Lords of Asylum by Kevin Wright), and while they share a fair bit in common (including both being SPFBO entries!), it’s impressive to see just how varied this very specific subgenre can be. While both contain a hard boiled murder mystery at their core, Herman has opted for a darkly comic tone that is much lighter and quirkier than Wright’s heavy, oppressive atmosphere.
Edwayn is a very typical Noir protagonist—depressed, hard drinking, observant and a bit of a drifter—imagine Rick Blaine from Casablanca in Half-Dwarf form and you’re not far off the mark. He’s working a dead-end job in a bar waiting tables and clearing glasses for the city’s elite—Elves and Humans who get their kicks performing ostentatious magical feats in public—when one of them turns himself into an inferno by mistake. When the fireball takes off, Ed follows in hot pursuit to prevent him from doing too much damage to the bar and its patrons. He chases the guy down and eventually manages to subdue him using a small bag of charms he keeps hidden in his beard, but ends up taking the blame for the damage and the hit to his boss’s reputation.
In short (heh), he’s pretty fucked.
Two encounters follow that set Edwayn’s course for the rest of the story. The first is a cop named Venrick, a rat-like creature with a fondness for natty hats and guns. He wants to hire Ed for his skills in observation and reasoning. The second is Elara, a woman in the form of an air elemental who wants to die but can’t, and believes that Ed is the only person who can help her.
So, is it successful? In some respects, definitely. In others, it’s not quite there. After Fantasy and Classics, hardboiled is one of my favorite genres. I’m a huge fan of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James Ellroy, Mickey Spillane, John Dunning, etc. So my hope was for a tightly plotted thrill ride with bags of tension and wit. What I received was very enjoyable, but it was also loose and a little convoluted. There were several scenes that weren’t necessary to the plot, or that ran on too long. But oh, the worldbuilding! Now that was delicious, and absolutely worth the occasional detour. The dialogue was also a highlight, and Edwayn made for a humble and likable protagonist. The sense of humor is understated but ever-present, and overall I found myself having a very good time.
There are some grammatical and spelling errors that are frequent enough to be noticeable, which is a great shame. However, my copy of the book is several months old so it’s possible that this is no longer the case. Nonetheless, I’d definitely recommend this novel if you’re a fan of detective stories and are looking to dip your toes into the fantasy equivalent, or if you’re a fantasy fan looking for something a little different. Its originality and inventiveness alone make it worth the ride, and the author’s wit and warmth more than make up for its issues. With another round of editing this would be something quite special, and I’ll definitely be interested to take a look at the author’s future novels.
Bingo Squares 2018
- Reviewed on r/Fantasy
- Entirely Within One City
- Fewer than 2500 GR Ratings