Our lady and saviour T. Kingfisher is back with another novel, and so very close to the publication of the last one in the series. Someone’s productivity spiked during covid!
Plot: Archenhold has it’s first gnole constable. A gnole joined the force to protect other gnoles, but unfortunately things did not quite go the way he expected. When he finds bodies washing up in the city’s river, no one listens and then he’s fired for investigating anyway because racism. But Constable Gnole wants to stop the murders, so he goes to Galen, a knight to a dead god with a dangerous sleep disorder who we know quite well from previous books. Galen listens, and then brings in Piper the lich-doctor (aka coroner) to help. The three journey out of Archenhold to discover the origin of the corpses, bring a criminal to justice, get some nookie, and maybe discover a lead to the biggest mystery of the Clocktaur War.
This story is meant to give us closure on the pain that has been radiating from Galen since Paladin’s Grace, and it does this. But Galen and Piper are clearly not the stars of this book. The most fleshed out character with the most depth and the best lines is Constable Gnole.
I’ve always loved the gnoles in Kingfisher’s books and it was wonderful to have one of them featured not only more prominently in the story, but be the core driver of it. Not only that, but Kingfisher does not give up the opportunity to use the way humans discriminate against gnoles as a tool to discuss ways in which people can be effective allies for those experiencing oppression and discrimination. Note that this is not your basic “racism is bad” type of story. Kingfisher reasonably assumes that you are already on side with discrimination being bad. Instead, she deftly explores ways in which systemic discrimination can cause individuals to act in a discriminatory manner despite their own beliefs. She forces Galen and Piper, who are lovely, loving, and 100% committed to being allies, to falter, to let their ego get in the way of being good allies, and to learn from their mistakes. And critically, it is an attempt to push back against this idea that to be a good ally you must be perfect and all knowing (a common way for people to protect themselves from having to do anything about the discrimination they acknowledge is real and bad). Galen and Piper are not punished for things they don’t know. They are trying very hard to learn and because of this, the gnoles help fill in the gaps in the cultural divide as needed. Allyship is not about perfection – it is about humility and effort and this book captures this perfectly.
But Constable Gnole is not just here to be your token victim. He’s the one who discovers the bodies. He’s the one who investigates it despite opposition from the top brass. He’s the one who finds someone who will help in his investigation. He’s the one who decides how they will investigate and where. He is very clearly leading this team and he knows it, because much like any good leader, rather than seeing his position as one of power, he sees it as one of immense responsibility towards the people under his care, even if they’re much bigger and stronger than him.
Of course, Kingfisher does all this with the same humor and absurdity her books are known for. It’s funny, it’s sweet, and it loves its leads so much you can’t help but love them too.