Reviewed by Stuart Douglas
It’s tempting when reviewing a chunky fantasy novel series to refer to previous fantasy books of which it reminds you. And it’s particularly tempting with Mike Wild’s “The Clockwork King of Orl” to simply agree with the reviewer on the back cover who says ‘Kali Hooper’s what Lara Croft is supposed to be’ – the archaeologist cum agile thief protagonist is, after all, a description which fits the tomb raider heroine of this particular novel just as much as the Tomb Raider herself.
But reading this first volume in the “Thief of the Ancients” quartet of novels, I was reminded more of Raymond Feist than Angelina Jolie, disappointing though that may be in some respects! Don’t get me wrong – Kali Hooper is a tomb raider in the classic mould, happiest when tripping booby traps in lost cities and forgotten temples, dodging deadly rock falls and collapsing staircases, and fighting the good fight against the forces of ignorance and evil. But there’s far more on display here than in the largely one dimensional game/movie franchise.
This is thoughtful fantasy, with a healthy back story, a fascinating setting, and a genuinely believable cast. Few characters in the book’s two hundred and fifty or so pages are wholly black or white and even those who seem irredeemable prove – to this reader’s surprise, at least – to have a realistic aversion to Armageddon. Not every figure is equal, of course – Killiam Slowhand, Kali’s potential love interest, strayed at times too close to the clichéd wise-cracking lad about town for comfort, for me – but the fact that not a single personality actually grates in a book so filled with, well, people is little short of a miracle.
Wild’s a clever and thoughtful writer, too, which obviously helps. From the very first page – the very first line in fact – he exhibits a facility for narrative legerdemain which is all the more surprising in a writer for whom sheer range of imagination seems initially to be the main selling point. For this is a book packed to over-flowing with ideas and images, races and traps, magic and warfare. From caves sheltering horrific, man-eating Ogurs to battles in rapidly flooding fortresses, the action never lets up for a second, as Wild again and again confounds expectations with a wonderful deftness of touch – and a wicked sense of humour, reminiscent at times of Terry Pratchett– missing from much modern fantasy novels. He’s also not afraid to tug at the heart-strings when the occasion demands,
There’s just so much in this novel, that I feel pretty confident in claiming it has something for everyone. Highly recommended.