Mareth is a bard, a serial under achiever, a professional drunk, and general disappointment to his father. Despite this, Mareth has one thing going for him. He can smell opportunity. The King is dead and an election for the new Lord Protector has been called. If he plays his cards right, if he can sing a story that will put the right person in that chair, his future fame and drinking money is all but assured. But, alas, it turns out Mareth has a conscience after all.
Neenahwi is the daughter to Jyuth, the ancient wizard who founded the Kingdom of Edland and she is not happy. It’s not just that her father was the one who killed the King, or that he didn’t tell her about his plans. She’s not happy because her father is leaving, slinking off into retirement and now she has to clean up his mess.
Alana is a servant at the palace and the unfortunate soul to draw the short straw to attend to Jyuth. Alana knows that intelligence and curiosity aren’t valued in someone of her station, but sometimes she can’t help herself and so finds herself drawn into the Wizard’s schemes, and worst of all, coming up with her own plans.
Chance brings this unlikely band together to battle through civil unrest, assassinations, political machinations, pirates and monsters, all for a common cause that they know, deep down, has no chance of succeeding – bringing hope to the people of Kingshold.
Kingshold is an entertaining look at a fantasy world’s transition from monarchy to democracy. Jyuth, an ancient wizard, has been quietly pulling the strings behind the scenes for centuries. When the dark secrets of the King and Queen are revealed to him, he decides that he’s pretty much done propping up sociopathic royals and he wants Kingshold to be handed off to a better class of bastard. To this end, he murders the shit out of them, dissolves the monarchy, and calls for an election. Politics being what they are in pretty much any society, the haves are terrified of the have-nots getting a say, and so some rules are set in place that a refundable deposit of 1000 gold must be paid in order to be allowed to vote, preventing all but the elite from having their voices heard. An assortment of rich arseholes put themselves forward for the position of Lord Protector, and that’s when the assassinations begin.
Are you ready? Because we’re just getting started.
This is a cleverly plotted multi-PoV tale, and it’s told with an enormous amount of enthusiasm and wit. The characters are all deeply thought out and utterly charming, to the point where I had to remind myself that this is a debut novel. Neenahwi is a fiery sorceress with a traumatic past, a pragmatic attitude and a boatload of sass. Mareth is a ne’er do well Bard with a desire to be better man. Alana is a serving girl with a good head on her shoulders and she’s absolutely bright as a button. There’s a trio of rogues who I think are all the way up there with Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Royce and Hadrian, and Locke and Jean in terms of banter. Jyuth is a Dumbledore-level schemer who loves those close to him dearly but he is done with everyone’s shit. We start off reading each character’s individual thread, and as the story progresses Woolliscroft braids these threads together and everything begins to shine.
Have I mentioned that I had a really good time?
So, it’s not a comedic fantasy exactly, but it did make me laugh really hard more than a couple of times. I’d liken it to Scott Lynch’s style in that respect, but… more British. Woolliscroft and I are both British expats, so that might explain why the hybrid Brit/American tone really worked for me. There are a lot of sly Discworld references and some creative swearing, and the comedic timing is spot on. Woolliscroft’s political commentary is based in reality rather than pure imagination, so parallels can be drawn to today’s political climate and that might either tickle or irritate you depending on your own leanings. If you like your humor on the dry, slightly pessimistic side, you’ll find much to enjoy here.
That’s not to say it’s perfect. There are some awkwardly crafted sentences here and there, the pacing has some issues (probably 50 pages could have been shaved to make it tighter), and there are anachronisms within the dialogue that some readers may find jarring. Even so, this is one of the strongest debuts I have read in some time. I hesitate to dock it a star because frankly, while I acknowledge that Kingshold is in some ways a diamond in the rough, that diamond is the size of a goddamn baseball. I have read more polished books that I enjoyed a lot less. The characters, plot and worldbuilding are absolutely stellar, and I will be ordering a physical copy of both this novel and Tales of Kingshold as a Christmas gift to myself. If you’re looking for something funny, charming, and a little different, I can’t recommend it enough.
It was a wonderful reminder of exactly why I take review requests, and with a debut this special I can’t wait to watch this author’s writing develop.
r/Fantasy Bingo 2018
- Reviewed on r/Fantasy
- Published 2018
- Protagonist is Writer, Artist or Musician
- Fewer than 2500 GR Ratings
- One Word Title