These two books form a duopoly – the Clocktaur war. They are set in a fantasy world, which is well drawn and clearly has activities beyond what happens in this story.
The premise of the story is that two countries/city states are at war. Or rather, one city is sending strange machines that destroy everything towards the other city. These are the Clockwork boys- mechanical things that appear to be made of bone, are covered with gears, and are very difficult to stop. The front has moved closer and closer to the Duchess’s city, so she has authorised a suicide mission to try and sneak in to the other city, Anuket City. This is not the first mission, but the previous two failed.
The key characters are:
Slate – a skilled forger who spent a number of years living in Anuket City, she left suddenly for compelling, mysterious reasons (that’s all you get for most of the books). She has some magic intuition that leads her to smell rosemary at certain points. This less useful than it seems. She is the nominated leader of the group.
Caliban – a former temple paladin. A demon slayer until he himself was possessed by a demon and killed a number of people. Slate chooses him from all of the prisoners she has the option to choose from, because of the rosemary.
Brenner – an assassin and thief and associate of Slate’s. They were lovers at some point in the past.
Learned Edmund – A young man, follower of a god that demands his male followers do not interact with women. He is along because a former member of his order was in Anuket City providing information and has ceased to communicate. He is the only one that is not a convicted criminal.
The three criminals have arm eating tattoos that will devour them if they betray the city.
The first books covers their trip to Anuket City, some very odd encounters, including admit a gnoll to their party. The second covers their time in Anuket City, where the truth about Slate’s past comes out, there are some dicey moments and they discover the source of the Clockwork Boys.
I really enjoyed the world of the story, it has depth and realism and clearly other stories happening that are not this story. That is enjoyable, to see the depth. The ending, and the mechanics that led to it, are not necessarily what i expected, but on rereading all of this information is there, but it forms part of the story so organically it doesn’t flag itself as the obvious.
The story is told with insights into what Slate and Claiban are thinking (in different chapters) but the reader does not get insight into Brenner or Edmund’s heads. No one is perfect here, but also there is no total evil. The “villain(s)” have real motivations and humanities.
They are pretty short, so quick reads (i have read them at least twice since).