Fiction Reviews

The Horns of Ruin

(2010) Tim Akers, Pyr, US$16.00, trdpbk, 269pp, ISBN 978-1-616-14-246-9


This is a novel that’s been described as 'fantasy Steampunk' or 'science and sorcery' and the labels fit, giving the would-be reader a good idea of what to expect, but probably not doing justice to Akers invention and plotting, and the new twists and turns he brings to the sub-genre, although I did have a few problems with the book.

Eva Forge is a member of the diminishing and endangered cult to the War God Morgan, one of the three gods of the floating city of Ash. The reason for this precarious position is that Morgan is dead, killed by his brother Amon. Not only is Eva a member and follower of the cult she is also its Paladin, making her a holy warrior, defending her god and protecting the rest of its followers, and very quickly they are getting their money’s worth out of her after the cult’s Fratriach is attacked by mechanical men and then kidnapped. This sets Eva on a fast-moving adventure through the city, encountering a myriad of characters some of whom can be trusted and some who cannot.

A nice touch is the use of magic, creating spells through chanting and by invoking the past. Both of these plot devices are different, but perhaps they get a bit overcooked as the plot progresses and Eva relies on them more and more, and sometimes all that chanting and invocation just gets in the way and slows things up. This isn’t a straight Steampunk novel, we have magic and powers added into the mix in an adventure that is part-quest and part-detective novel with mysteries to be solved and revelations to be revealed as Eva must find her missing cult-leader as well as having to protect a young girl called Cassandra who follows the god who killed her god – the Betrayer, no less - and like some of the people Eva encounters, Cassandra has powers over technology.

The plot is fast moving so it’s just as well that Eva is equally fast with her fists and her feet and trusty weapons. She even shoots from the lips, from which roll off plenty of quips and insults. Yet apart from her name and obvious female form, she could just as easily have been a male character given the driven and ruthless way she performs her tasks. One problem I have is the fact that the story is told in first-person, through her eyes, and the reader might have preferred a break from her relentless, single-minded nature, and the obvious lack of real jeopardy that the first person narrator brings unless it transpires at the end of the book that Eva is telling her tale in the afterlife, or on the eve of being executed, or lying on her death bed, or whatever. As a character she really isn’t that likeable and not too distinguishable from other tough-girl clichéd characters. She never seems to learn, and never seems to lighten-up, particularly in her relationship with Cassandra. And maybe because of her viewpoint, the other characters - including the setting floating city of Ash – do not seem to be as fleshed out as much as they could be, although I do have a soft spot for any library that goes by the name of the Library Desolute.

The ending is perhaps a bit predictable, but satisfying enough and revelations are revealed about Eva’s past and her route to becoming a Paladin; Akers hints at potential big things for her so things are set up for the sequel with Aker being in the nice position of having two series on the go, his Veridon books interspersed with Eva’s adventures, watch this space. All in all, an interesting, and inventive novel, but marred slightly by the telling. 3 out of 5.

Ian Hunter

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