Grumpy Bird Reviews: The Riddle Box

A review of a book. No pictures or anything. Except for that glorious cover image by Mike Groves. Instead find a murder mystery smothered in fantasy goodness. Or the other way around.

front_coverThe Riddle Box

Author: G. Derek Adams

As I said when I reviewed Spell/Sword this author and I go way back. Boon companions and all that. Just so you know. I’m going to try and not let that color my review. And to convince you I’ll soon get to the three things that I have a gripe with. But first:

Synopsis: Rime and Jonas, our protagonists, find their way into a castle just in time for there to be a murder. Then they try and solve the mystery. That’s basically the plot.

Analysis: As I said I want to start out with the three things that I have a gripe with. I am going to be spoiler free. But beware!

Gripe 1: The final battle. Or actually the final solution to that battle. It just felt too quick. To be fair the thirty-plus pages leading up to that final moment  and the direct follow up was fantastic. It melded genres beautifully. I’m talking murder mystery, fantasy, and even some cyberpunk vibes (but Adams calls his wares Swordpunk, so there you go.) But the culmination felt a little quick, let there was good tension to milk but he elected to let it go unmilked. Don’t get me wrong, it is still a very rewarding ending. But it was a touch too quick for my tastes.

Gripe 2: There is a chapter or two just after the beginning that serve as “setting the stage chapters.” These pages drag when compared to the rather quick pace of the rest of the book. Their are a lot of introductions in quick succession without that much character work being done. Great character work comes later and the pace returns to normal, but at first it is just different colored silhouettes.

Gripe 3: This, and Spell/Sword before it, is formatted in block paragraphs. Much like this review. It is such a small thing, but I do wish it was in more standard novel format. This is more to do with personal preference rather than actual quality, but block paragraphs make me think of internet articles not novel. There I said it.

Those are basically my gripes about my friend’s book. So believe me when I say that what is left is pretty awesome. Adams does a great job with his characters and also in presenting fantasy situations in their least pretentious way. This is a fun, fun read with a lot of those trappings drizzled on (schools of magic, lost civilizations, multiple races and cultures) but he does so in a more naturalistic and fun way than I see in a lot of books that veer more to purple prose. Which, has its time and place, but it is rewarding to read about characters that do feel more modern. And don’t confuse modern for too-cool, snide or just winking at the audience, that doesn’t happen here even if the characters can be genre aware.

Because what makes a lot of this work is that it is a murder mystery where the characters (or maybe just Rime) are genre aware that they are in a murder mystery. Not that this necessarily helps the characters but it does add a nice level and it certainly rings true to Rime’s love of books. Also, that this is a fantasy novel through and through adds a nice dimension to the traditional detective story. Have there been many other fantasy murder mysteries? I feel there must be, but I can’t think of any.

All in all this is a great follow up. It might not move ahead the over-arching story, but it gives us great characterization of the main two as well as the supporting characters. It also supplies clues to Jonas’ past and while making Rime more and more likable. It is a slight detour that fills in many holes along the way. This combined with Adams ability to turn a phrase and just the rhythm of his writing makes it a very satisfying read.

This is a self-published novel and as far as I know it is only available on Amazon both as a paperback and as an ebook for the kindle. If you like mysteries, pick it up. If you like fantasy, pick it up. It you kind of like fantasy but are tired of uber-heavy, end-of-everything tomes, the certainly pick it up. Although it is a sequel, you might not need to read Spell/Sword to follow what goes on, but it will be more rewarding if you do, so pick that up as well.


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