Shoe and Fisk are soldiers for hire and this time the job involves guarding a fancy river boat as it carries the wealthy owners on a pleasure trip downstream. Sounds like an easy gig, but the riverbanks are dangerous, with far more than just bears and bandits to worry about. Yes, that’s right, this is elf territory and those mean creatures are fast, cruel and seriously creepy. Oh and it might just turn out that someone forgot to tell them the real reason for taking a ‘pleasure cruise’ in such an odd location…
‘The Incorruptibles’ is John Hornor Jacobs’ ‘first foray into fantasy’ according to his website, but it’s certainly not a tentative experiment in writing in a different genre. The characters and ideas are clear and it’s obvious that Jacobs knows exactly where he wants to take the reader. It’s begun, before you even open the book, in the beautiful cover (a great job from Edward Bettison) where the etched styling immediately brings to mind a setting, ready for the book to take you inside that image.
It is a fantasy novel but contains a number of elements that will be familiar with readers of westerns and there’s also a dash of pseudo-Roman civilisation to add another layer to it. Jacobs isn’t afraid to take the fantasy elements to dark places, with his elves in particular certainly not the friendly type. The scenes with their vicious attacks are brutal and happen at such a fast pace that even though you’re reading it, things seem to happen almost while your back is turned.
The other fantasy element that I really need to point out is the power system. In this world, demons can be trapped and used to power things, so instead of steam or electricity, we have demon power. It’s a neat idea and one that I think will prove to have more to it than meets the eye.
I really enjoyed the characters in ‘The Incorruptibles’. They’re fairly simple to start with but the way they’re written makes them seem realistic within the first few pages. Their development then continues throughout the book and I can tell we’ve only just scratched the surface of them by the time the novel concludes. I don’t want to write too much about them really because I enjoyed the way that little bits of information kept being revealed so that you are continually forced to revise your initial ideas about the characters and look at them in new ways.
One thing I’m pretty keen on is that fantasy novels have a great setting and the world Jacobs has created for his debut novel contains a lot of things I like. We get an idea of the landscape the party is travelling through, which in turn gives us a feeling for the civilisations that inhabit the areas. This is where the western elements come in, the towns they find feel very much like the ones you might encounter in a western film. Lots of suspicion of outsiders, fear of attacks from indigenous peoples (elves in this case, mostly) and a sheriff in every town whose word is law. Through the characters we take this to another level, learning the differences between these backwater towns and the big cities, getting a taste of the political structure of the place and a feel for how things work with the different nations. It’s great and, like the characters, I feel that Jacobs has a lot more left to tell us.
When I think about this novel I don’t actually think about the plot at all, it wasn’t the selling point. In a way this book was setting the scene, introducing us to the world and a few characters within it so that in the next book we can really run with it and you know what? It worked. I can’t wait. I’m really looking forward to seeing what Jacobs shows us next. There are so many points where I can’t help but want to know more that whichever way it goes I think I’ll be happy.
(pub: Gollancz. 320 page hardback. Price: £20.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-5751-3366-2)