Stars: 2 out of 5 (and that’s pushing it because at least the language is good)
I love the Sandman Slim series, so I really, REALLY, wanted to love this book… I was so excited to receive the ARC from Netgalley that I pushed all my other half-read books aside to start this as soon as possible. Unfortunately, my excitement soon turned into bewilderment, then annoyance, then boredom. I finished it only because I was already 75% done and felt like I’d already suffered enough torture to stick around and see the ending… which was nothing to call home about.
So what went wrong with this book? Oh where do I begin? Get comfortable, it’s gonna take a while.
First and biggest problem, in my opinion, is the pacing. NOTHING, and I mean, nothing happens in the first 3/4 of the book. The protagonist delivers some packages, then goes home to get high on drugs and have sex with his girlfriend. Rinse, repeat. for over 300 pages!!!
Then the action suddenly picks up around page 300 and we careen to the end at a neck breaking speed. It would be good if the pacing was justified, but it feels exhausting, almost as if the author suddenly realized that he only had 400 odd pages to tell the story and decided to cram all of it in the last 100 instead of editing the beginning and cutting most of the boring bits out. The action feels more like an outline that has been hastily fleshed out just enough to pass mustard. And the big reveal, final big bad, as well as the ending are underwhelming to say the least.
I might have been okay with the lack of story in the beginning if the protagonist was interesting enough to follow along with. But Largo is anything but. He is a doormat. He has no initiative. All his life he simply floats with the current thinking only about his next score or his girlfriend. He doesn’t DRIVE the story, he just floats along in the current. So when it’s not even clear where that current is going, this gets boring very fast.
And even when he actually decides to do something, he doesn’t actually have to work to accomplish anything. There are no real efforts on his part.
He needs to make an urgent delivery and his tires are slashed? Hey, perfect time for character growth and for the author to actually make him DO something to change his circumstance… But no, another courtier, who was never mentioned as being his friend, lends him her bike. Why? Because reasons only known to the author. Mostly, I suspect to move the story along.
He decides to go to Higher Proszawa, which is a battlefield and a quarantine zone off limits for everyone. Does he plan this trip? Does he, you know, gather supplies, investigate the means of getting there an back? Actually do something to get this done? Nope… He just mentions this to his friend Raineer and magically, everything is taken care off. He suddenly has money, and a weapon, and a convenient way in and out via a smuggler his friend knows. Everything handed to him on a sliver platter.
I could go on and on about this, but that would just be beating a dead horse. This character is as interesting as a doorknob. And he is the protagonist, which can tell you a lot about the other characters in this book. They are all cardboard cutouts that have a role to play to push the doormat Largo along. The girlfriend who has zero personality apart from being beautiful and in love with Largo. And her sole purpose in the story is to get captured to push the protagonist into action (or what passes for action for this one). The best friend and wounded veteran that conveniently still has all his contacts and can part with a wad of cash even though he lives in a dilapidated apartment on a meager government pension. And so on, and so forth.
And finally, the worldbuilding really sucks. We are told there was a great war that Lower Proszawa won, but we don’t know when that happened, and who they were fighting against. The other party is only ever mentioned as the Enemy. We also know absolutely nothing about the world outside of this city. I think one other “provincial” town is mentioned once, because a character was born there. Other than that, the rest of the world might as well not exist at all.
In fact, at one point, I even wondered if Lower Proszawa was actually a purgatory for all the souls that died in the war. That would have explained the lack of information about the outside world or why the details of the Great War are so fuzzy, or why they live in constant fear of a new war… Now that’s a twist I would have welcomed. Unfortunately, that wasn’t meant to be.
What we have instead is a sub-par story with a boring protagonist in a barely fleshed out world. Very disappointing book from the author of Sandman Slim series. I definitely won’t recommend it. Save your money and your time for other books.