Today, another review, this time of the fantasy novel Child of the Night Guild by Andy Peloquin.
Andy Peloquin isn’t afraid of a challenge. He likes his fantasy to explore the darker side of human nature, and with his book Child of the Night Guild (Book One in the Queen of Thieves series), he has certainly done that. His story about an innocent girl transformed through brutal training into a thief and killer is a gripping read all the way. This is partly because it’s a damn good story. The other reason is that, like his heroine, Peloquin successfully tackles a number of challenges many authors would quail at. In the hands of a lesser writer, much of this story could have gone tragically wrong.
The first of these challenges is the fact that his protagonist is a thief. She steals without remorse or compunction in order to survive. We like to think of our heroes as the good guys, but this girl is no noble-hearted Robin Hood, robbing people for a higher cause; she’s a crook. Making a criminal into someone we admire is a hard ask for a writer.
Secondly, he writes from the point of view of a pre-teen, and later teenage, girl. From Peloquin’s promotional photograph, I assume he isn’t one (the beard is a bit of a giveaway). As a writer of female protagonists myself, I understand how hard it is for an adult man to think like an 8 to 18 year old girl.
The final challenge he sets himself is that the premise of the book is based on child abuse. There’s no polite way of saying this. The dark side of humanity that he chose to write about in this book is the brutal, unforgiving—and unforgiveable—abuse of innocent children. There are publishers out there who refuse to deal with such stories, and so basing an entire series of novels on the idea takes guts. At times reading the book was a little disturbing, even for a seasoned horror and fantasy writer like myself.
Fortunately, Peloquin comes out on top with all three challenges.
The book is a bildungsroman, the story of an individual’s growth physically, mentally, morally and emotionally. We follow the heroine as she learns about the world in which she lives. There is no long introductory world-building in this book. Our view is as limited as the lead character’s for most of the first half. It is only later that the view opens out and we find out more about the world of the book. We adapt with her, suffer, eat, train, win and lose with her. I found within a few pages of the book that I desperately wanted to know more about her, empathised with her, cried for her. The reader learns along with her to hate the Night Guild as much as she depends on it to survive.
Peloquin has done his homework. The detailed descriptions of how to pick pockets, how to fight, how to climb walls, how to acquire other people’s property without their knowing add verisimilitude to this already character-rich book. I’d love to have dinner with the man sometime to find out more about him.
I look forward to the second book in the series, Thief of the Night Guild, out in mid-2017. I also will avail myself of Peloquin’s other books.
So I conclude with a heartfelt thank you to Andy Peloquin for writing probably the best story I have read in the last year.
Check out the excerpt below for a taste of Child of the Night Guild. And go to the links and buy a copy. If you don’t, the Night Guild might pay you a little visit when you least expect it, and you wouldn’t want that to happen.
Writer Andy Peloquin. The beard is a giveaway: he ain’t no girl.
EXCERPT from Child of the Night Guild:
“Are you sure you’re doing it right, Seven?”
Seven scrunched her face, concentrating hard. “I’m doing it just like he showed us, Three. See?” She attempted to snatch the purse.
Three patted the oversized waistcoat Master Velvet had given him.
“I could still feel it. So you’re doing something wrong.”
Frustration mounting, Seven tried again, doing exactly as Master Velvet had taught them. Walk toward the mark. Bump into him. Dip two fingers into his pocket to hook the purse. Apologize to the mark and touch him with my free hand. Hide the purse in my palm and hurry away.
He shook his head. “That time, too. I can feel you pulling the purse out when you move away. Maybe you need to do it faster.”
“I can’t do it faster, Three. Not yet, at least.” Seven clenched her fists in frustration.
He held up a hand. “It’s okay, Seven. Give it time. You’ll get it.”
“Here.” She threw him the bulging, cloth-stuffed purse. “Let me try again.” Even as she tugged the purse free, the look on Three’s face told her she’d failed.
Her friend shrugged. “Still felt it.”
Seven ground her teeth. Master Velvet said this is supposed to be easy. So why can’t I get it right?
Three tugged the vest over his head. “Let’s give the bump a break for a moment.” He pulled a dun-colored cloak around his shoulders. “What say we give the snatch a try?”
Seven nodded. The snatch required timing and dexterity, but she’d grown adept at it. She walked toward Three, brushed against his cloak, and lifted the purse from the hidden pocket, all without breaking stride.
Three’s eyes widened. “Damn, Seven. I didn’t feel a thing!”
She beamed. “Well, at least there’s one thing I’m good at.”
Master Velvet strode up behind her and took her small, muddy hands. “You’ve got good finger-work, tyro.” He ran his calloused hands over her fingers. “They’re quick and nimble. With the right training, you could become quite the purse collector.”
“Thank you, Master Velvet.” She flushed at his praise. It was the first full compliment she’d ever heard pass his lips.
“Keep it up, Seven. Three.” With a nod, he moved to the next pair of tyros.
Three slapped her on the shoulder. “Look at that! You’re getting there.”
“Yeah. Now if only I could get the bump down properly.” She held out her arms. “Here, give me the vest and cloak. You’ve got to practice, too.”
As Three passed her the clothing, Twelve’s shout echoed through the Menagerie. “Damn it! You’re doing it wrong, you stupid sack of shite.”
Two met Twelve’s glare without a trace of fear. “How in the Keeper’s name can I be doing it wrong, Twelve?” Two was taller than Twelve, though not as broad. “I’m standing here in this vest. You’re supposed to be pulling the damned purse.”
“Well…” Twelve faltered, his face reddening. With a snarl, he threw the purse in Two’s face and stormed off.
Three snorted. “Looks like he’s not doing much better than you are, Seven.”
Seven glared at her friend. “That’s not saying much for me, you know. With those fat sausage fingers, he can barely fit his hands in the pocket.”
“There you go.” He gave her a broad grin. “You’ve got the advantage, at least over him. Just give it time and you’ll get better at it.”
She rolled her eyes. “Well, let’s see how good you are.”
“I’ll bet you a peach I can do the bump better than you.”
More about Andy Peloquin: