THE THOUSAND DEATHS OF ARDOR BENN by Tyler Whitesides.
Orbit Books. p/b. £8.99.
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.
Ardor Benn is a confidence trickster of what one could modestly describe as good ability. Very modestly. Double-crossing a mobster is just part of Ardor’s day to day, only this mobster would appear to have seen through his scam and involved an officer of the Regulation to boot. As it turns out, this officer does not exactly play by the rules, and in classic Ardor Benn style, the double-cross is all part of the act. Another job done without a hitch… well, almost! An overly ambitious scheme or an overly cautious mark? Perhaps this one is not going to go quite as smoothly as Ardor thought.
Isle Halavand, a Holy Isle, has something far more important to fill his focus than spending time on rituals he knows to be pointless. Moonsickness is feared – a terrible condition that only the Isle’s can stave off, or so they say. But Halavand has worked out the truth. He has had to walk a long way to find the right tavern in the city of Beripent. If any of his fellow Isle’s found out, he would be in great trouble, but this is not his first night out on this most important errand.
It seems Halavand has finally found who he is looking for, but if this is Ardor Benn, then he is not at all what his reputation would suggest. This man is drunk, reckless and far from the person the Holy Isle wants to pin his hopes of the future on. It is all a huge risk, more so, but he has waited a long time for this night. The dragons have been tamed, for now, but a dragon is still a dragon, flames and all.
The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn begins with a punch of excitement that carries through to the end. While Ardor carries the bulk of the narrative, he is joined sometimes by Halavand and sometimes by a competent and likeable thief by the name of Quarrah Khai, in whom Ardor has perhaps found his match.
There is something a little Locke Lamora about Ardor Benn which fans will delight in. He has similar confidence in his own abilities and an endearing respect for his friends in those moments where they prove necessary to success and survival. The pace in this first book is excellent and holds up from start to finish, and it looks like we have a very desirable series to devour in Kingdom of Grit.
The Grit itself is the basis of the magic system (I would recommend consulting the diagram at the back of the book shortly after reading the opening scenes) and works well in giving our characters believable magical advantages that most certainly come with a warning label about potential for danger, disaster or other adverse effects. Ardor’s glorious mixture of planning, positive thinking and a good share of luck keep things just that bit unpredictable as the narrative unfolds.