The Trials of Solomon Parker by Eric Scott Fischl. Book Review

Angry Robot, p/b, 400pp, £8.99
Reviewed by Shona Kinsella

The Trials of Solomon Parker is different from any other fantasy novel I’ve read. I think the author might have just created a whole new category of his own! Set in the mining town of Butte, Montana, the book is a mash up of western and fantasy that works in really interesting ways. The book asks the question: What would you do if you had a second chance? Would you go back and fix your mistakes? Would you be the same person?

The fantasy element pops up quite late, with np magic actually happening until about a third of the way through the book. Until then, it’s a straight forward story of the difficult life led by the titular Solomon Parker. Sol has suffered some tragedy in his life and has made some really bad decisions. He’s a very well-written character. Flawed. Damaged. He begins the story as a fairly sympathetic man, despite – or perhaps because of – his flaws. A hard drinker and an unlucky gambler, trouble seems to follow him around, but down in the mines he works hard, treats his crew fairly and does his best to keep them all safe.

These qualities draw us to Sol and keep us at his side, even though he’s not actually very likeable. Billy Morgan, Sol’s best friend, softens some of Sol’s rough edges but he has problems of his own. A native who was taken away to be raised in the white school, Billy doesn’t really know who he is.

This book is really visceral. Fischl does a great job of adding in sensory details that make the reader feel as though they are there. The smell of smoke, constantly, over everything, the chill in the air, the sour taste of stale beer. The grime and graft that was the life of a miner.

There are lots of political threads in this book. We have the early unionization of the mines, the ties between the Company and organized crime in the town, the treatment of Natives and of the poor. It’s a dark and gritty story set in a dark and gritty time.

Woven throughout is the story of Maatakssi and Siinatssi, brothers who founded the People and made plenty of mistakes of their own, mistakes which echo through the main narrative with Sol and Billy.

I don’t want to say too much more because *spoilers* but I would say, prepare to be challenged, prepare to follow an unusual narrative structure to an unusual and uncertain conclusion. This is brilliantly written by an author who really knows what they’re doing. Well worth a read.