He Drank, And Saw The Spider by Alex Bledsoe – Book Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk takes a look at the latest Eddie LaCrosse novel from Alex Bledsoe, the fifth in the series.
“Downright fun, entertaining and very light-hearted.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
I read my first novel featuring sword jockey, i.e. fantasy-style detective for hire, Eddie LaCrosse in 2012, The Wake of The Bloody Angel (review). It was a really good book, filled with lots of humour, lots of action, a great sea-monster, and some really creepy characters too. Most of all, it had a really, really fun female character in the form of Jane Argo, a former pirate and a friend of Eddie’s who is a fellow sword jockey as well. I’d been meaning to read the previous three books in the series ever since, but never really got around to doing it, more than a year and a half on. Then I heard a few months ago that Alex was going to have another novel out soon, and I got really excited. I read the eARC of the book last month and I had as much fun with it as I did with its predecessor.
He Drank, And Saw The Spider does something much different than I expected. I hadn’t read the blurb for it, so I was quite surprised to see where the story went. It starts off with a sort of a prequel, that revisits an old adventure of Eddie’s from years back. It sets up the entire story to follow, laying down the seeds and building the rough framework. It seems that years ago, just before he became a sword jockey, Eddie helped save a relatively new-born girl from a rampaging bear and even some swarthy-looking soldiers who were apparently out to kill her, for reasons unknown. Eddie leaves the girl in the care of a farm-girl in a nearby village, and then leaves, having transferred any responsibilities for her. And now, when the story gets going, he returns to the village quite incidentally, going around the countryside and partaking in the multiple harvest festivals in each village with his girlfriend Liz Dumont. The girl he left behind is now all grown-up and has a life of her own, which his accidental arrival somewhat overturns and now they all must deal with the fall-out, particularly given how the past comes back to haunt them all.
Right off, what I loved about the book was its consistency in tone to The Wake of The Bloody Angel. This is the same Eddie that I remember from that novel, and the humour tone of the book is the same as well. It is quite incredible how seamless the transition is between the two novels, though the stories are quite different from each other. And since Eddie’s adventures are written as standalone stories, it is even more significant since Alex is under no strictures to maintain that consistency.
I had some issues with Eddie’s easy attitude towards women in this novel, something that was quite missing from the previous novel. It can get a little irritating, but I suppose that it is also somewhat fitting since such is the provenance of noir-thriller detectives/heroes and the Eddie LaCrosse novels in part are the (heroic) fantasy version of such stories. I wish it was different, but I won’t complain about it since Beatrice, the object of his affections, is a pretty damn strong woman in her own right. She always flips the tables on Eddie and constantly wrong-foots hi, which I found to be amazingly well-handled. I think it was the perfect approach to go for, and her scenes definitely brightened up the story every time. She just might be the new Jane Argo, I think.
More important than all that however is Isidora herself, the girl that Eddie abandoned, and then reconnected with all those years later. There’s something special about her, the reason that she exists in the first place and the reason that a bunch of soldiers were out to kill her when Eddie found her in the woods, in the arms of a dying man who was supposedly her protector. I liked her character. Charming and witty, she was really fun to read about. Her naivete kind of grated on me at times but by and large, she made a nice counter-point to both Liz and Beatrice, and added a whole different perspective to things.
The scope of He Drank, And Saw The Spider is very localized. In that Eddie doesn’t go on a great adventure to battle monsters and find some gold. He simply has the task of reuniting a girl with her parents. The fate of two kingdoms is at stake, particularly since they are rivals and there is a fair bit of bad blood between them, and it all really adds to the tension and character drama throughout the book. What’s most impressive of all however is how Alex keeps the wheels turning and puts out a story that ends in a very different place from where it began. There are so many twists in the second half that I was kind of surprised Alex had managed to include all of them, and handle them with a deftness I did not expect, largely because the plot does kind of become a bit convoluted there in the end.
The ending of the novel, or rather the climax, is one of the most heartbreaking moments in the novel. Everything that has happened prior to that is finally crystallised in those final pages and it all finally makes sense. The troubles in the two kingdoms, Isidora’s abandonment, the attempts on her life, Eddie’s place in the grand scheme of things. Everything. Alex ties off the plot with a bow, but he also delivers some great commentary on family and having trust in your family. This is when the title of the novel finally makes sense as well and in that respect, I’d say that it is a great choice. Certainly very unconventional, but since the entire series is predicated on an unconventional premise, with the whole sword jockey angle for Eddie, it all fits.
Ultimately, what it comes down to is that Alex a really fun novel, certainly one that is among my better reads of 2013 and since it comes out tomorrow in fact, it also made my “Most Anticipated Books of 2014” list. Yes, yes, I kind of cheated there a bit.