ARC received from the publisher, Orbit, in exchange for an honest review.
The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn by Tyler Whitesides
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.
Series: Kingdom of Grit (Book 1 of 3)
Genre: Fantasy, high fantasy
First published: 15th May 2018 by Orbit (US) & 17th May 2018 by Orbit (UK).
New cover re-release: 20 October 2020 by Orbit (US) & 22nd October 2020 by Orbit (UK).
The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn is a commendable adult fantasy debut, by Tyler Whitesides, that is fun, entertaining and has a unique magic system.
Firstly, this book caught my attention because it was tagged as “Perfect for fans of The Lies of Locke Lamora, Eli Monpress and Theft of Swords.” As these are some of my favourite titles, I simply cannot pass this up. Plus, I could never resist a heist-plot.
Ardor Benn is a ruse artist extraordinaire who enjoys trickery and mischief, and due to his legend was approached by the most unlikely employer who required his services to undertake the biggest and most audacious heist he had ever performed. And it was an extensive one, such that the story sometimes felt a bit too long.
The narrative follows the 3rd person limited point-of-view of three main characters – Ardor himself, a female thief named Quarrah Khai whom he had to employ to assist with this heist of his lifetime, and a significant man of religion, Isle Halavend (in this world, an Isle is akin to a priest). The character development was good enough that I was interested in each POV, even though my favourite is Ardor. That is not surprising as I’ve always had a soft spot for roguish characters with good hearts – a cliche that is well-used in stories like this, but one that I will not grow tired of anytime soon.
Aside from Quarrah, our ruse artist extraordinaire has a partner in crime who is also his best friend for many years, Raekon Dorrel. Ard is the master plotter while Raek is the master mixer who prepares all the necessary ingredients to pull off the former’s ruses. What do I mean by mixer? Allow me to elucidate a bit about the magic system, which is hard rule-based magic like Allomancy from the Mistborn series, except it is detonated/ignited instead of consumed. The source of these magical ingredients called Grits is – wait for it – dragon poo. Depending on the material fed to the dragons, the resultant Grit from the processing of its excrement have different usages, such as Barrier, Blast, Drift, Light, Cold and Heat Grit. And there are Prolonging and Compounding Grits which can be combined with the others to extend its duration or enhance its effects. A detonation will result in a cloud which is spherical, and anything within it will be affected by the Grit’s purpose. A master mixer such as Raek will be able to ascertain the weight of different Grits required to achieve the desired outcome. There is a glossary on the Grit system at the back of the book which is quite detailed. Admittedly, some of the action scenes are pretty darn cool with the inventive use of the different types of Grits.
On top of this rather complex magic system, another aspect of the worldbuilding also took me a while to get settled in. We have a religion called Wayfarist, and the faithful are those who have the Urges to keep progressing and advancing, while the faithless are called Settled or Landers. It is all rather quite strange, and I am still tottering as to how I feel about it.
There are times when I find the writing a bit clunky and perhaps a little less refined. Nonetheless, the book is easy to read, and I noticed the narrative improving as it progressed. Plotwise, it is to be expected that nothing will exactly go smoothly for Ard and his team. Regardless, there were a few cool revelations and plot directions which I did not anticipate. And for those who like having some element of romance in their stories, rest assured you will find it in Ardor Benn’s debut story.
In short, this novel is an entertaining read for those who enjoy a fantasy heist that occasionally heads in unexpected directions. I’m definitely invested enough to continue with the rest of the trilogy.
Read and reviewed for first release in 2018.