(2017) Jon Hollins, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, 591pp, ISBN 978-0-356-50766-8
Fantasy has been around for a while, but arguably the first 'modern' fantasy book was more akin to a heist film than a sprawling epic. In fact, The Hobbit serves only to inspire False Idols in that both are about robbing dragons, and the consequences thereof. Here, itís all about the consequences.
First, Iíd like to talk about Will, he should be the least interesting character. He is literally the farmer-turned-hero. But he is so well drawn and unique, he holds his own among a cast that includes the most charming giant lizard man ever. It is Willís rage that serves as a catalyst for the events of the first novel, a suicidal heist committed against the most powerful beings to walk the earth. And because of their success, the time of dragons is coming to an end. Having a character with such clear, glowing drive is an incredible experience for the reader, and Hollins uses snappy dialogue for humour and gravity in roughly equal measure.
The world-building featured is also decent, although it could use more depth and justification. If magic can create what is basically a combustion engine, why aren't they more ubiquitous? Hollins has a great opportunity to create a fresh and interesting setting here, and indeed all the various nations, flora and fauna get a decent explanation-just donít expect Tolkien levels of depth. That being said, what depth we do get is tantalising and really whets the appetite for more.
In fact, thatís the best way to describe False Idols. It is good, balanced modern fantasy, and the genre desperately needs more materiel in this vein. The setting is ripe for exploration, and both the characters and the background have enough meat on their bones to satisfy the reader, even though a greater plunge into the world-building would make for more satisfying fare. The magic is sparsely used here, and spectacular when it rears its head, but it seems to be caught in an uncomfortable middle ground between biblical Gandalf-style miracles and dense, Sanderson-type pseudoscience. The lack of adherence to either school of thought makes it difficult to properly engage with the magic system, which again loops back to the need for world-building depth.
In conclusion, False Idols is a continuation of a fresh and interesting hybrid series. Crime capers and fantasy mix well, as seen in The Lies of Locke Lamora. But by invoking the halcyon days of The Hobbit and the most classical tropes of fantasy, False Idols sets itself apart from more gritty, cynical examples. The politics are intricate without being Byzantine, the action is punchy without being stupidly gory (except when goblins are involved, but do they really count?). The prose is clean and well-structured, and the humour is excellent in the most tragic way (youíll see what I mean when you read it). All in all, False Idols is entertaining, well-paced and a definitively fresh sequel in a world of stale reboots and boring rehashes played out again and again.
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