The Jack of Souls, by Stephen Merlino (40:00)

IOD score cardToday we have another installment of From the Firehose. And guess what? This one’s a survivor! Huzzah!

What I gleaned about the story: Tonight his Harric’s birthday. The day on which he is cursed to die. And who put that curse upon him? Why, his mother, of course, and her curses always come true. Most likely, he’ll be dead by morning. But for now? Let’s have a party!

Find this book on Amazon.

Intro: As with all “From the Firehose” reports, I’ll start with some notes about what attracted me to this particular book. In this case, it was a strong cover and an intriguing title. At thumbnail size, the cover art caught my eye. Very painterly, in that strong tradition of fantasy paintings. And the title suggests to me a rogue story with a theme of gambling. I didn’t even bother reading the blurb. When a book speaks to me with such strong notes of professionalism and intrigue, I go all in pretty quickly. So let’s see what I’ve gotten myself into.

Note: Initial impressions don’t make a huge difference in whether or not I’ll enjoy a book, but a polished and professional entrance to any business is a classy and comforting way to begin. So I was thrilled to find that the book design and layout lives up to the expectations set by the solid cover. So far so good. And now let’s take a look at the prose…

Kudos #1: Fabulous exposition

Details: Here’s a short excerpt that caught my eye on page two:

Caris waited for him in the passage, illumined by a single candle near the door. Like all horse-touched, she was even bigger than the average man, so she filled the narrow servant’s corridor, hair touching the ceiling and elbows brushing walls.

I love this description. The author doesn’t just call her “big.” Instead, he uses a curious in-world word: horse-touched. That single phrase ignites a cascade of curiosities for me. What do horses have to do with it? Is she part horse, or are such people just good with horses? Or does it simply mean “big as a horse”? All of these are in-world questions. Curiosity about the place and about how its people and systems fits together. All from the use of a single well-chosen word. How much blander would that have been if she’d just been “big”?

Note: So far, this is excellent. We’ve arrived on the eve of an important curse. A young man was cursed to die on this night. Cursed by his own mother. And her curses, famously, always came true. So he’s throwing himself a farewell party, and spending lavishly on food and drink for the entire town. But now he’s wandered off to be by himself, and we’re left to wonder what the curse was all about, and why a mother would do that to her boy, and what (if anything) he might be about to do that will sidestep the famous curse, or at least set it on its ear so that it’s still true, but in a different sense. Despite the drama of the scenario, the place feels real. He has a definite personality, which colors how his friends treat him, but the author isn’t rushing to fill in every last detail. Just as though we’d happened into an important night in the life of a real guy.

Kudos #2: Excellent world building

Details: One of the things that really makes a world ring true for me is a well constructed mythology. What are their religions and superstitions? What are their beliefs about death and life? In fantasy novels, we get to go even further: What interactions do we have with the dead and what do the dead believe? I’m happy to report that the first chapter ends with an excellent excursion into just those questions, as the spirits of the dead play a pivotal role in how the curse is manifested. But that’s all I’m going to say. I don’t want to spoil anything for those who give this book a try.

Note: And before you know it, my 40-minute buzzer is ringing. Wow. I barely noticed the time, which is about the biggest compliment i can give a book.

Outro: Well, it doesn’t always come to pass, but this time, the strong title and cover design were a hallmark of the prose inside. Not just engaging, but with story elements that seem fresh and new to me. The setup of joining a man on what is supposed to be his last night of life is a great start, and the prose lives up to the promise of the premise. (The pellet with the poison’s in the flagon with the dragon! The vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true!)

I’ve already put this one on my Kindle and I’m going to dive in later tonight. Anybody care to join me?

Take the Pepsi Challenge: Want to know if my own writing measures up? Try the free sample on one of my books or short stories and decide for yourself.

Her demonic Angel: and other short stories, by Joy Mutter (0:32)
Flash Fiction, by Richard Dee (2:28)

About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is underqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.