Thread Slivers, by Leeland Artra
Thread Slivers is the first in a series of fantasy novels, the Golden Threads Trilogy. In it, we are introduced to Ticca, a Dagger with a dream to be the best in the business, and Lebuin, a sheltered dandy of a Mage with more clothes sense than common sense!
Set against the backdrop of a burgeoning civil war, Thread Slivers dives straight into the action. The story is fast paced, and covers a lot of ground in this first installment. Like most fantasy and SF, there is a whole world to be discovered, and this one is an intriguing mix of inspirations. A lot of fantasy (mine included) takes medieval Europe as its foundation, and it's always interesting to read something that draws from a different well. The use of technology in Thread Slivers also serves to separate this novel from the usual castles-and-kings fair. There is a mystery here - where does this technology come from? Why does one character use language that one would expect to hear in the modern military? Artra is blending genres, and this is one of the most exciting things that self-published authors are free to do - experiment. However, as with all genre-bending, there is always a danger that it may leave readers either wanting more of one genre, or, worse, thoroughly confused. Thread Silvers manages this well, keeping the fantasy setting as its focus, and only hinting at the SF influences to come.
The majority of the story is spent in the company of Ticca and Lebuin. Ticca is a Dagger (a kind of sell-sword/rogue), and is at the beginning of her career. She is talented for sure, but as with anyone starting out, she has to pay her dues. As a result, she finds herself taking on the task of protecting the newly minted mage - and consummate dandy - Lebuin. Like Ticca, Lebuin is also extraordinarily talented, though due to early events he is left lacking in magical powers for a lot of the novel. The fact that these two youngsters are so gifted may bother some, but generally the story balances their natural abilities with the fact that they are both naive in other areas, which saves them from being, potentially, a little grating.
I particularly enjoyed spending time with Lebuin. It's refreshing to see a mage who is rather clueless to the ways of the world, and his reliance on Ticca to help him survive is honest and sensible. It would have been an obvious move to have him attempt some kind of status play with Ticca, but instead Lebuin wises up very quickly to her advanced knowledge and skills, and is grateful when she accepts the contract to help him. Equally, Lebuin's fashionista tendencies are both endearing and funny - his distress when escaping attack in soiled beggar's clothing genuinely making me smile. Artra doesn't give into cliche here, either. It would be a cheap trick for a writer to mock Lebuin for his sartorial concerns, but Artra avoids this, treating Lebuin's foppishness as simply an aspect of his character. In a genre in which often times 'men must be men', whatever that means, it's rather charming to see a male lead enjoy the finer things in life without it being painted as a character flaw. Indeed, if it weren't for Lebuin's interest in fashion, the pair would likely have missed out on some very important information...
Without wanting to delve into spoilers, Lebuin and Ticca end up receiving help from someone who, by rights, they should certainly not have. This may sound rather normal for a novel, but Artra offers an twist, managing, at least in part, to avoid a serious peeve of mine: the girl in the fridge (possible spoiler if you click the link). However, Artra manages to include this whilst at the same time using the magic inherent in his world to retain the character's agency. As a reader, it's always interesting to see old ideas (even if one doesn't care for them) spun in news way, and this is a good example of that.
In terms of writing style, I did struggle at times. The tendency early on in the novel to view the same scene from alternate character points of view felt repetitive. Given the depth of the world and the cliffhanger ending, I would have much preferred that this time was spent advancing the plot, rather than seeing the same action again. Having said that, I can see how for some this style might be interesting, offering alternative insights into events, and showcasing Tica and Lebuin's different mindsets - it just didn't work for me. Once Ticca and Lebuin leave the city, and more characters and different plot threads are introduced, I enjoyed the story much more.
Away from Lebuin and Ticca's adventures, there is clearly a lot going on, and most of this novel is setting the scene for the battles to come. One of the major characters in this area is Duke, who's acerbic wit and tendency for violence make him entertaining. There is clearly a history to be known regarding Duke's origins and his involvement in the city-states, and I'd have liked to have found out more in this installment. Still, there are enough clues and hints to have kept me turning the pages. If the novels are heading in the direction I think they are, this could be a really interesting take on the fantasy world. The whole series is published, so you can jump straight from book one to book two. If you're the kind of person who, like me, hates waiting, this is a definite bonus!
Thread Slivers is available on Amazon, and you can read reviews on Goodreads. Artra is on twitter: @LArtra. If you check out his website, you can get a free copy of Thread Slivers or fantasy/steampunk novel, Impossible Paradise.