Shadowhawk reviews the upcoming fourth Eddie LaCrosse novel by Alex Bledsoe in which the popular fantasy P.I tackles pirates and hunts for missing treasure.
“Truly a rip-roaring adventure on the high seas against pirates, sea-monsters and with the added bonus of a big hoard of treasure involved, this is a must-read for all fans of fantasy fiction.” ~The Founding Fields
I’m always on the look out for novels that are, to put it simply, different than the norm. That is mostly because I like some variety in what I read and the goal for this year’s reading is very much that: to read a lot in terms of both quantity and variety. Alex Bledsoe’s Wake of the Bloody Angel fulfills the latter requirement quite well. It is a novel that is indeed very different from the usual fantasy novels and even among some of the unusual ones, it stands out from the rest. This is a novel that is all about what is under the hood.
Having read the back-of-the-novel blurb, I wasn’t too terribly excited for the novel so picking it up on NetGalley and then hooking it up on the iPad was pretty much on a whim. I figured why not. It sounds different, and the author isn’t someone I’ve never read before. More fresh reading for the year. Really glad I picked it up however, because it is very different in tone and mood to my usual fare of heroic epic fantasy.
Being the fourth novel in a series shouldn’t count against the novel. It very much stands on its own and is a complete package. References are made to events in the previous three novels, and they form a key part of Alex’s world-building but the main narrative is never sacrificed for that. Wake of The Blood Angel however, is not a novel that is driven much by its world-building, mainly because it has a very historical feel to it. It would very much not be out of place in a setting like the Pirates of The Caribbean movies, which is an apt comparison. The novel is character-driven to the hilt, which makes it a really interesting read for that fact alone. What we see of the world is just as fantastical and intriguing as the Pirates of The Caribbean movies, and there are enough interesting characters to keep you turning the pages.
Eddie LaCrosse is a sword jockey, which means that he is an investigator-for-hire and a bounty hunter of sorts. What really drew me in from the get go is his dialogue and his internal though process (the novel is written in the first perspective). The dialogue is both sharp and witty, and Eddie is portrayed as a really cynical, seen-it-all veteran of the job. The line of work he’s in, I suppose that’s a necessity. It makes Eddie really likable. He navigates through problems calmly and with a certain flair that you just have to appreciate. He’d certainly make for a dashing pirate captain, if only he wasn’t hunting for one in the first place, on behalf of his old friend Angelina who has asked him to find out what happened to a sailor-turned-pirate she fell in love with ages ago. A very business-like guy, Eddie is quick to begin his investigation, which is where my second favourite character in the novel comes in.
Jane Argo is a former pirate captain who later turned pirate hunter and is now a sword jockey just like Eddie. Choosing between her and Eddie is a really tough task, mostly because she is so… bold. Her character is wittier than Eddie, and certainly more self-assured. She really has seen both sides of the law. She is a strong character and is most definitely not disadvantaged in any because of her gender. As someone with intimate knowledge about pirates and their habits, she is the most suited ally in Eddie’s investigation and she is utterly domineering when she is in her element. She is nostalgic at times about her former life as a pirate and she enjoys the moments as they come. She also has some really cool, evocative scenes which prove her reputation as the toughest, baddest pirate captain ever to sail on the seas. A novel from her perspective would be great I think.
Angelina, Eddie’s friend and the owner of the tavern from where he runs his business, is an interesting character. The first we see her, we are shown a character at odds with how the narrator (Eddie) knows her and this sets up the rest of the novel really nicely. There are a lot of contradictions about her that are revealed over the course of the novel and they really make the novel worth continuing on with. I definitely never saw the twists and turns coming and Alex never really foreshadows them either, which keep the mystery feel of the whole of it very intact.
There are a host of other characters in the novel that make the entire experience complete. Liz Dumont, Eddie’s romantic interest, is one of them. She doesn’t get much in the way of page-time but she still shines in what few scenes she does show up in. The reason for that, I think, it because she makes Eddie really three-dimensional and more well-rounded. Those scenes also ramp up the tension in the novel since Eddie is quite committed to his relationship with her and yet he is undeniably attracted to both Jane and Angelina, and has to fight off their mild interests in him. It is rather comical at times but the scenes are written well enough. Rody Hawk, former pirate captain and now prisoner in the city of Shawano, is another great character. He is one creepy pirate that you really don’t want to tangle with, no matter what. Imagine Blackbeard from Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, except creepier by few degrees. He has a really good sequence in the novel and reading those scenes was like reading an off-the-rails, no-holds-barred thriller novel. The guy has that affect. The third character I want to mention here in Duncan Tew who is, as Jane and Eddie discover, part-time farmer and full-time ne’er-do-well. He is spunky, irreverent and carries a major chip on his shoulder. Won’t say much about him since it is all mostly important spoilers, but suffice to say that his was a character arc that I really liked seeing unfold. He grows up in small steps as the narrative progresses and while initially he is pretty hard-to-like, by the end you find yourself really mellowing towards him.
Some other memorable characters in the novel, mostly the crew-members that Jane and Eddie put together in their hunt for the pirate Black Edward, and they are all a really good bunch to read about. Without them, Wake of The Bloody Angel would be quite a different novel indeed.
The pacing of the novel is mostly quick and sharp, just like its two lead characters, although it does flounder at times, mostly towards the end when it is as if things wrap up way too quickly. Slightly disconcerting that. Nevertheless, there is a good balance between all the action in the novel and all the non-action character-building as we explore the characters themselves and the world through the eyes of Jane and Eddie. What’s really good about the pacing is that Alex ramps things up in the blink of an eye. As my friend Sarah at the review site Bookworm Blues said in her review of Dark Jenny, the predecessor to Wake of The Bloody Angel, the author takes you “from zero to murder in almost no time flat”. I find that quite appropriate given the nature of the novel.
The action scenes, whether they involve monsters or pirates, is brutally fast as a consequence. Things are never over too quickly, so its more of a rollercoaster ride. Alex’s style is fairly descriptive and it makes reading the action scenes really enjoyable.
What the author has really excelled at here is how focused the narrative is. This is a tale of adventure and mystery on the high seas, with pirates and a big load of treasure thrown into the mix, alongwith ample monsters and baddies to keep you interested. It’d be quite easy to get side-tracked but we are kept on the road throughout the novel. And since the novel itself is pretty much a standalone in the series, that is double appropriate. With a novel like this, there is no room to go off on tangents. The tale of Black Edward and his ultimate fate unfolds really nicely and you really have to appreciate at the effort that has gone into the novel. Pirate novel from start to finish.
Overall, I highly enjoyed reading Wake of The Bloody Angel, to the point that I bought the three other novels in the series soon after I got done with this. Looking forward to reading them in the coming weeks and months, same as with my mountain of a to-read list! This is very much a novel that I’d recommend highly to everyone. A great pirate/detective mashup set in a unique, magic-lite fantasy world is what this novel has to offer, in addition to a really memorable cast of characters.