Once again, Drew Hayes has come up with something completely different from his previous work. This has more of a detective story, well, detective vignettes that come together. So kind of like his Fred, The Vampire Accountant set up. But we’re in the realms of fairy tales this time. And it feels a lot darker than his other stuff. The writing brings to mind the old noir detective stories, you know, the ones where you see the silhouette of the guy smoking a cigarette and usually some lovely lady in distress coming to ask for help. But one of the main differences between this and Drew Hayes other work is that this is the rare stand-alone novel! That’s right, it’s not part of a massive series!
We follow along with Jack, Frank, and Marie, a group known as The Bastard Champions. When someone does you wrong and you can’t get out of it, call on The Bastard Champions. They never take a job they can’t finish, and they expect gold for their services. They are not gentle, and never technically break any laws, although what they do to the bad guy is usually not considered moral.
Our first story involves Cinderella. She’s been to the ball and fallen in love, but now her ‘fairy godmother’ has come to collect her payment for her services. I’m not quite sure what fairy tale the second story is based on. The third involves a very nasty Pied Piper. The fourth is based on The Frog Prince, and the fifth is a fairy tale that’s vaguely familiar involving a witch. We also see Hansel and Greta, and Scarlet and her wolf Peter (who is kind of Little Red Riding Hood with a nod to Peter and the Wolf, and there’s also a hint at Jack’s past.) The sixth has Pinocchio, and we learn more about Frank’s story (although I feel like we’re missing a few small bits of Frank’s story, perhaps only a few sentences.) We have the Elves and the Shoemaker, and we indeed learn more about Jack and Marie, but saying what tales they relate to is a bit of a spoiler.
One thing I’ve noticed in fairy tale stories, is that a lot of times they have some sort of power that makes things turn out the way fairy tales should. In this, we have the Narrative. But the Narrative is not the power everywhere. They talk about other lands, like where Frank comes from, where they have gods instead.
Oh, the power of Hayes! At one point, I had a “What if?” thought, but it didn’t happen. But then it did, only it was more awesome than I thought it would be! Well played, sir!
We have three people reading, and they put on a masterful performance, as is the norm for the narrators of Hayes’ work. (And it’s one of the finalists in the Fantasy category of the Audies!) Between the text and the narration, you fall in love with The Bastard Champions, either in spite of or because of the somewhat morally dubious tasks they take on. Jack is a charming scoundrel, and Marie and Frank are following along, trying to do as much good as possible, while gaining the most profit, of course. And even before you know they’re stories, you’re rooting for them. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near them, due to the trouble they attract, but I wish the best for them all the same.