4 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
Heart of Veridon is a weird mix between a film-noir style detective thriller and very weird clockwork fantasy. The juxtaposition of these two dissimilar styles mostly works, but the book inherits flaws from both genres. On the plus side, the story moves quickly and is quite engaging, the supporting characters are unique, the protagonist is consistent, and the setting is distinct and interesting. There isn’t a moment that you feel fully immersed in the setting or feel like you really understand how it functions, but the glimpses you catch into the everyday life are quite different from what you typically see in fantasy. I would definitely recommend this book, but probably more to people who like action and an interesting setting than to people looking for intricate plots and interpersonal interactions.
Jacob Burn is a disgraced noble, a failed pilot, and now a member of a criminal syndicate. When his superiors task him with an easy mission where he gets to take a luxury ship home, he thinks his life is going pretty well until a man he once knew commandeers the ship and crashes it, killing everyone on board except for Jacob himself. What’s worse, during the course of trying to keep the ship from crashing, Jacob receives a complicated clockwork that various factions in his city seem to be doing anything in their power to retrieve.
The main defects in the book stem from its two main influences. From the noir side, the book starts to feel a bit like a series of loosely connected vignettes that don’t really have any particular influence on each other in terms of order. There’s a lot of traveling around to weird locations for the protagonist to discover some minor nugget of information about what is going on, and at some points when the protagonist meets up with the same people repeatedly to get information out of them that he could have gotten the first time, as a reader you begin to suspect that the author was trying to cram too many ideas and locations into the book and some of what you are reading is just filler to get from one place to another. It fits very closely with the noir style of constant, almost entirely factual, conversations and abrupt scene transitions, but at some point it gets a bit old.
From the clockwork fantasy side, the genre really isn’t established enough to have a clear idea of the ruleset, so at times it feels a bit like any random stuff can happen and still fit within the setting. It’s not that the author decides stupid or jarring stuff could happen very often, but as a reader you are often lead to believe that stakes are very high when it turns out magical clockwork stuff can completely solve the problem with very little effort. This doesn’t happen constantly or anything, but it is certainly frustrating when it does occur.
The strengths of the book greatly outweigh the weaknesses overall. The story takes place in the city of Veridon, which is based on a fairly simple concept but feels very intricate and complicated. The locations are all described beautifully, and each one contributes greatly to the city feeling like a living, breathing place rather than just a backdrop to have people stand in front of while they shoot holes in each other.
I can’t give the author enough credit for the strengths of the supporting cast. I didn’t spot any stereotypes there at all, and yet the characters all seem to have their own motivations and hooks to make them interesting. There really isn’t any non-plot-related dialogue, so you don’t really feel like you understand how day-to-day life works in the city, but even the fairly minor characters seem like they are living in their own little worlds with their own concerns and aren’t just sitting around waiting for the protagonist to come around so they can say their few lines and exit the stage.
Comparisons to Other Authors:
There are certainly parallels you could draw here to Jo Anderton’s Debris. Both have disgraced nobles as protagonists, both are set in a vaguely threatening clockwork-style city, and both have some weird mythical elements overlaid on the overarching story. The format is very different, and the more noirish style of Heart of Veridon might not appeal to everyone, but I feel like this is a stronger novel with a more interesting fully fleshed out setting.