I tend to favor character-focused stories over more plot-focused stories, from Pratchett to Becky Chambers, any book that makes me feel like I’m reading about real people will instantly go on my favorites list. I’m pretty stoked that this is the second time during the finals that I’ve been blown away by how attached I became to the characters. Both Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang and Fortune’s Fool have struck a chord with me and are in my top three favorites of the finalists.
This is a single POV story told in the first person using two different timelines. We’re introduced to her in the ‘present’ but for the first half of the book, the majority of the page time is spent in her past bringing the reader up to speed on how she became to be the person she is now, and why she’s on this quest for vengeance. This book burns slow, but it’s a nice even burn. You’re not sure why at first, but she’s lost one of her arms and had it replaced with a magical metal arm, she’s been kicked out of her home and forbidden to use her last name. She’s disguised herself as a man in hopes that she can live out her life as a mercenary without being discovered by her House enemies. Despite the fact she can’t use her last name, or any of the privileges that came with it, she could still be killed for it.
For me, the writing was one of the highlights and strengths of Fortune’s Fool. I prefer books that are medium in length, between 300-500 pages typically hits the sweet spot. Shorter than that and I may not invest fully because there’s not enough time, and more than that often feels bloated and unnecessary. This is a 737 page and I feel like there could be things that could be cut or made more compact, there were times where it slowed down a bit too much. That said, I enjoyed myself a lot and can’t think of too many instances where I was thinking a scene needed to be cut. Most of what was in there either built up the plot/character and felt necessary. It’s a long-ass story. It’s a well edited long-ass story, too. Bloated books can take forever to edit and will sometimes have an abundance of errors, but I was pleased that wasn’t the case here. The dialogue was very fluid and natural. I know I hit good dialogue when I’m engrossed in character’s back and forth and nothing sticks out to me as forced or “scripted” feeling. It’s a tough thing to do in such a long book with so much dialogue – many opportunities to make something feel awkward or out of place.
The world-building in this was intricate and leaned heavily on House rivalries over resources and trade. There weren’t many info dumps, everything unfurled naturally, there weren’t many instances of characters telling each other things they should already know for the sake of the reader. It was mostly show and not tell which made for an immersive read. It’s a low-magic low fantasy kind of book, too. In the very beginning, you’re told there’s magic, the main character has a magical metal arm – and yet, for the most part, it remains a mystery and isn’t seen on-page for a long time. It’s mysterious when it does appear, it’s not a hard magic system like some of the other finalists. The way Kyrra loses her arm is brutal, this is not a world where women are treated the same and sexuality can be demonized for the nobility. Losing your virginity very much so harms your ability to get married, and it can be twisted against the woman that she was a seductress and seduced the poor helpless nobleman.
The longer I sit on this book the more I like it. This is the opposite of what usually happens when I sit and think about a book. Normally I’ll find some plot hole or something that was predictable or doesn’t make sense. Maybe the ending made sense in the moment but when you take a minute to think about it later it doesn’t feel quite right. In this instance, I’m like “wow, I kind of want to read that again” to see what I missed the first time. I will absolutely be reading more from this author and will remember Kyrra and her story for a long time.
- Plot: 12/15
- Characters: 14/15
- World-Building: 13.5/15
- Writing: 13.5/15
- Pacing: 10.5/15
- Originality: 12.5/15
- Personal Enjoyment: 9.5/10
Final Score: 85.5/100 or 8.6/10