The Paladin Caper by Patrick Weekes
My rating: ★★★★
A thief’s good deeds are never done.
Loch and her crew are determined to stop the Ancients from returning to reclaim the world they once ruled, but a kidnapped friend throws their plans awry. When a desperate rescue turns into a shocking reunion, the ancients return and seize power. Determined to stop them, Loch and the crew look for a way to close the gate to the ancients’ world, but this time, they find themselves up against an enemy that has insinuated itself into the highest ranks of the Republic. Cruel, cunning, and connected, the ancients target the crew’s families and histories, threatening to tear friendships apart.
If that weren’t bad enough, Loch must deal with her treacherous assassin sister, her turncoat ancient friend, and a daemon who has sworn to hunt her to the ends of the earth. In order to save the Republic and pull off her largest con ever, Loch will need her friends…and maybe her Enemies too.
[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]
The tone in this last volume of the trilogy is different: somewhat darker, dealing with a more “end of the world”-oriented plot, following several plot points set in place in the previous books, and bringing a nicely-wrapped conclusion to the series. Perhaps too nicely-wrapped? I liked it in general, but I guess I would’ve appreciated finding more of the first installment’s humour.
Loch’s usual band of misfits gathers again to disrupt the Ancients’ plans, starting with one of their typical heist/cons, in a fashion any reader of this series will recognise. As usual, too, the story goes through a lot of twists and turns: events where our heroes find themselves in dire straits, but had planned for contingencies and switch to Plan B, and so on.
The characters remain well-rounded, resourceful each in their own ways, with their strengths and weaknesses: the ones we know, the ones we see them overcome. Desidora has to deal with her desire to get revenge on the friend who betrayed her, and Ululenia with the transformation she started going through in volume 2. Kail, Loch and Tern get struck where it hurts, as they have to worry for their loved ones. Dairy, definitely not the naïve young man anymore, has to go through his own ordeals, and try to discover himself in the process. Other, secondary characters are brought back into the fray as well. As for the enemies, they are cunning enough, don’t hesitate to resort to villains’ tactics (hostages, etc.), and manage to be both out of this world and curiously human at times, too.
The story circles through these themes both seriously and humorously. Kail and his “your mother” jokes, for instance: what does it say about his loyalty to his own family? Ululenia and her new urges: they get expressed in ways that correspond to her, making her gradually switch from virgin-lover unicorn to a darker, more eoritcally-inclined version of herself (in amusing ways at times, such as her mind-altering alliterations turning into different words, and in much more lethal ones at other times). Tern with her reactions, the way she makes her friends understand what they need to do, not by ordering them around but through psychology—all the while having to stay away from people she still cares about. Naria with her little games and her ambivalence: it’s so hard to tell whether she’s “nice” or a “traitor”, and this makes her more interesting, as it’s never clear-cut. Pyvic and Derenky: the latter wants the former’s job, everybody knows it, and everybody (Derenky included) jokes about it. And other countless little things.
In terms of pacing, much like the characters, we never get to fully rest, and it’s obvious that something is always bound to happen. The breaks they manage here and there are never meant to last, and it makes for a grand finale, with action scenes going parallel to each other, enemies that won’t relent on the means to take our heroes down, and various settings where every person, every small team has a key role to play.
I am undecided as to some of the twists, though: the last third rests on actions that the characters have planned, but that the readers aren’t aware of, and while it’s surprising and befitting Loch & Co’s wits and abilities to improvise, it also brushes upon of a device consisting in denying information to readers—in other words, it made me wonder if there wouldn’t have been a way of letting me, reader, suspect something, without having to use what looked a lot like a deus ex machina. (Not in terms of new events happening: in terms of events that happened in the past, yet are revealed in such a way that they seem to arrive out of nowhere.)
The story’s also lacking a sense of urgency when it comes to people dying. Not everyone gets out of there unscathed, however considering the world-shaking potential consequences, the novel seemed to end just a tad bit too conveniently for some (and the scarred ones felt slightly like an afterthought, as if someone had to get hurt for this to be believable, so, hey, let’s hurt a few people).
The social commentary, finally, is a bit of an oddball: heavy-handed in some ways, yet crafted through the story in a logical manner that highlights and mocks injustices. Depending on one’s mood and sensibilities, this could be a problem. I will confess to paying more attention to the action and characters than to how this commentary was to be taken—sometimes, I guess I just happen to bypass that kind of things.
I’m still giving this novel 4 stars. In spite of my reservations about it, I enjoyed it, and enjoyed seeing all the arcs gathered and solved. The characters are clearly ones I’ll keep in my mind for some time.
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