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Publisher's Summary

In the contested and unexplored territories at the edge of the Empire, a boat is making its laborious way upstream. Riding along the banks are the mercenaries hired to protect it - from raiders, bandits and, most of all, the stretchers, elf-like natives who kill any intruders into their territory. The mercenaries know this is dangerous, deadly work. But it is what they do.
In the boat the drunk governor of the territories and his sons and daughters make merry. They believe that their status makes them untouchable. They are wrong. And with them is a mysterious, beautiful young woman, who is the key to peace between warring nations and survival for the Empire.
When a callow mercenary saves the life of the Governor on an ill-fated hunting party, the two groups are thrown together. For Fisk and Shoe - two tough, honourable mercenaries surrounded by corruption, who know they can always and only rely on each other - their young companion appears to be playing with fire. The nobles have the power, and crossing them is always risky. And although love is a wonderful thing, sometimes the best decision is to walk away. Because no matter how untouchable or deadly you may be, the stretchers have other plans.
©2014 John Hornor Jacobs (P)2014 Orion Publishing Group
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
3 out of 5 stars
By Melanie on 03-31-16

Great world, competent prose, messy story

The core concepts of this fantasy western are great, as others have noted. Some of the characters are interesting, too, especially the narrator (though many are flat and hard to keep track of). The writing is competent and effective.

However, the story is structurally all over the place. Many characters are introduced only to be killed, often before we've had a chance to care at all. Many subplots don't relate to much of anything and/or don't resolve by the end of the book. The main plot question itself doesn't resolve in anything like a satisfying way. In that respect, it's more like a literary fiction than a genre fiction--and that's not a compliment, coming from me.

The book also takes hours before the plot actually begins. Up till then, it's just narrative. This thing happens, this next thing happens, then this thing happens, and we're only reading because we're interested in the world and the narrator. Relationships develop and intensify off-camera. Sometimes the narrator imagines what might be happening, which felt uncomfortable to me.

Finally, most of the character arcs either don't resolve at all or end up with the character weaker than they were to begin with. I'm not going to explain because of spoilers, but take my word for it that I was indignant. I felt like exciting concepts had been introduced, made vital to the character, and then simply trashed, both disappointing me and weakening the character.

Personally, I do not recommend this book. However, I know that many readers place higher importance on worldbuilding and prose than the plot and conclusions--in other words, they care more about journey than destination--and those readers would probably find a lot to enjoy here.

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5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Robyn on 08-03-16

Surprisingly good

Selected off the strength of the narrator, Steven Pacey, who is always fabulous, I took a punt with this one. Not quite as good as my favourite fantasy authors, but definitely a good find and worth the credit.

As far as world building goes, it's a mix of wild west, roman empire, with a dose of demon and elf lore.....but not elves as you'll have experienced previously.

I'm not sure I was satisfied with the plot and the solution for the Stretcher and the demon hand (no more detail for fear of spoilers) -but perhaps it was too subtle for me. Despite this annoyance, it's a good gripping tale, and I will be looking out for the sequel.

Fisk and Shoe are interesting characters, and some good groundwork has been set for future adventures.

Steven Pacey does an excellent job, as always.

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9 of 9 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Christopher on 12-18-14

A great find!

Story - 4.5/5

I stumbled across this in a sale and only gave it a shot for (1) because it is narrated by Steven Pacey and (2) because the only review from Karen made it sound more interesting than the "back cover blurb". I can tell you now, it is a fantastic story, and one that all grim-dark fantasy fans should give a go.

It has a weird mixture of influences; combining the wild west with roman military/politics and a steampunk fantasy where demons are trapped to enhance the power of machinery and weaponry. You may think that this can't work, but it does - mainly through the brilliance of John Hornor Jacob's prose.

He is actually a very clever writer, and builds the world, characters and pace gradually throughout until the huge climax near the end which is also excellent. The gradual building of these elements means that it takes a little while to get into, but you will realise it was worth it when things start to happen later on.

Performance - 5/5

Steven Pacey is one of the reasons for buying this audiobook, so of course I am going to give him 5/5. He is the very best narrator I have come across, and doesn't disappoint in this book. If you liked him in Joe Abercrombie's books, he is just as good in this - consistently flawless in voice acting, setting the scene and describing action. What more could you ask for?

Overall - 4.5/5

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7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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