Introductory notes: everyone who knows me knows (see what I did there 😉 ) I’m not really good at reviewing anything. Mostly I spoil the living daylights out of the thing, people cringe, while I wave my arms about and express my feelings about said thing. I could be better if I bothered to practice more. So I’m practicing and doing one now, in English. Brace yourselves, ye’ve been warned. 🙂
I first heard about Adrian Selby’s debut book Snakewood while reading an article on io9 about the best fantasy and science fiction books that were coming out in March. I was intrigued by the rather short summary of the book, so I typed the name of the book and the author in an Evernote file along with the publishing date and continued on with life. Somewhere after Easter I remembered to check said file, got the book and transferred it to my Nook. I wasn’t planning on reading it just yet, since 1) it wasn’t on The List (yes, I do make lists about the things I want to read, and the order I would like to read them. And yes, more times the not The List is ignored.) and 2) I was already reading a history book on the Nook that I wanted to finish before starting on anything new.
However, life had other plans 🙂 and at the beginning of this week I opened the book and started reading. Admittedly, I had little to no idea what I was getting into by reading this book. All I knew that it was a fantasy book about a group of old mercenaries who slowly being were assassinated by person or persons unknown. Frankly, all I needed to hear was mercenaries and assassins and I was game. So the first third of the book really surprised me and reminded me that next time I should probably do some research before reading.
Firstly, allow me to elaborate on my confusion. The book begins in medias res. There is no Tad Williams like long introduction, nor the meticulous notes and appendixes that he makes, that by the by I am a huge fan of. I love the immersion in a new world that comes from long introductions that allow you to acclimatise to the world you’re getting to know. None of that hand holding here, you’re thrown into the story like someone pushed you into the sea from a rather large cliff. You sink or swim.
From the very start the reader is “assaulted” with the books terminology: plants, brews, rise, spores, paying the colour etc. I struggled to make sense of these things while I soldiered on with my reading. The POV changes didn’t bother me that much, I’m used to those, but trying to figure out the timeline and some of the terms had me baffled and in all honesty there were a few times I thought about quitting reading this book altogether. But I’m a stubborn old lass and I don’t give up easily, especially when I’m invested. And I was invested and I wanted to see this through, if only so I could rant about it afterwards. Well now I’m glad that I stuck with it.
Turning to the almighty Internet for some clarity helped me out with my reading struggles. Scrolling through the reviews on Goodreads I noticed that other people struggled with the book, or at least the first part of it. I was relieved, because honestly there’s nothing worse than the feeling that you’re the only person in class that doesn’t get something that should be blatantly obvious to you, but somehow isn’t. So I persevered and was rewarded for my efforts.
However, it’s not easy to pinpoint the exact moment where the whole thing became clear and I stepped out of the fog, but I’d hazard a guess it was at the beginning of Chapter 9. Suddenly everything kind of clicked and I relaxed and I started rooting for the remaining old mercenaries from Kailen’s Twenty. Although at that point the “bad guys” have the upper hand. But honestly in this book it’s difficult to apply terms such as “good guys” or “bad guys” to any of the protagonists. Even though you might like a character or characters more than another there is no clear distinction who has the moral high ground, because all of the characters are flawed. Or to be clear they’re humans, just like us. Sometimes they did the right thing and sometimes they did the wrong thing. The perspective about what’s right and what’s wrong and your judgement and classification of a character will depend on your interpretation of the version of events that happened.
While you’re deciding about those classifications and your final judgement about the characters the second third of the book is filled with delightful twists and turns, and a few surprises as the protagonists progress to the final stretch of this march to the finish line. And right there, at the final third of the book came the twist, the punch that had me cursing and laughing at the same time. On reflection I suppose I should have seen that one coming, or at least suspected something, but honestly I’m glad that I didn’t. The plot twist was more rewarding that way and it increased my enjoyment of the book.
To conclude this spoiler free, and hopefully not so confusing review (or at least an attempted one) I suppose I should sum up my final thoughts on Snakewood. If you like fantasy books, but are kind of fed up with the usual epic fantasy texts and would fancy something new, you should definitely give this book a go. But do keep in mind that this book does stars in medias res, there’s no long introduction or a helpful appendix in the back to guide you through until you get your bearings. You’ll be confused, then you’ll come to the crossroads and you’ll get it, then you’ll go through rigmarole of emotions and thoughts as you read those aforementioned twists and turns. And you will be surprised and hopefully delighted by the unexpected punch in the gut near the end of the book. So dear reader(s), bearing all this in mind, go forth and read Snakewood, it’s one of those surprising books that keeps you guessing what’s coming next. To paraphrase Forest Gump it’s like a box of chocolates and you don’t know if you’ll like the flavour of the next one.