Imagine if Terry Pratchett’s writing and Douglas Adams’ writing had a baby and you basically have T. Kingfisher’s style mostly understood. I think most of you have already left to go order this book, but I guess I’ll still go through the motions.
Plot: A penniless widow has inherited all the money and assets of her late husband’s great-uncle, who she’d been caring for since her husband died. The family naturally descends on her and immediately begins scheming how to get it back. The scheme is mostly comprised of (1) lock her in a room, (2) marry her to her late husband’s clammy handed brother, (3) profit. She’d rather be dead. In trying to kill herself with the only thing available – a rusty old sword that had been hanging over the fireplace in her tiny bedroom for decades, she accidentally releases a man who is either is a sword or lives in the sword (this is a semantic distinction no real answer is given to but much time is spent contemplating) and is sworn to protect the wielder. They escape and shenanigans ensue.
The shenanigans are beyond absurd. Our penniless bimbo, who comes from the same family of characters as Arthur Dent and George of the Jungle, has learned to survive mostly by acting dumb and talking at her problems till they go away. This works on guards, bandits, murderers, enchanted swords, priests, and lawyers. It also gets her into an equal amount of problems that mostly get solved with stabbing by her magic sword man, who comes from the same family of characters as Sam Vimes and Geralt of Rivia.
This is a low stakes story with sweet, warm, hilarious characters and expertly written dialogue. It’s a pretty standard length for a fantasy (read: at least 30% longer than the average book), and with the stakes so low, you’d think the story would drag, but you’d be wrong. It resolves most of its plot threads very satisfyingly and leaves a lot of stuff open for the next two books to deal with. Like how they’re finally going to kill those roving hills. They must kill them. Who wants to live near to malicious, murderous hills??
Kingfisher’s books make me think a lot about that unfortunate quote of George RR Martin where when asked why there’s so much sexism in Game of Thrones basically said that you could either have dragons or an egalitarian society but people’s imagination can’t stretch to both. Kingfisher takes that idea and shoves it up where the sun don’t shine. There is a non-binary character who, first of all, outside of their pronouns, their gender literally never comes up ever, and even when kidnapped by total scum who are threatening to murder them, are never mis-gendered. All courtship customs easily apply whether to opposite sex or same sex couples, and this is made explicit. All people are shown very clearly as being worthy of love. (Unless they are priests of the Hanged Mother. Those people are trash.)
This world still has prejudice and inequality, but it also creates a safe space for readers who want to enjoy fantasy without bracing against sexual violence (there is one oblique threat to this but it is a single sentence and never gets mentioned again), unnecessarily triggering language, or erasure. Why can’t you have a story that both acknowledges a variety of people’s existences AND have dragons? Kingfisher’s answer is unequivocally that you absolutely can. Not only does it take nothing away from the story, it allows for a much richer tapestry of characters to pull from and makes for a better story.
Since Kingfisher is mostly known as a children’s writer I should also note that this is very obviously a book written for adults, just adults with the maturity of a nine year old, so it was perfect for me. Maybe it’ll be perfect for you too.