The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes
|Book Name:||The Palace Job|
|Publisher(s):||47North (US) Tyche Books Ltd (UK)|
|Formatt:||Paperback / Audiobook / eBook|
|Genre(s):||Fantasy / Adventure|
|Release Date:||September 26, 2012|
BioWare has created a number of my favorite video game franchises. Alongside the critically acclaimed Knights of the Old Republic, their blood soaked fantasy world of Dragon Age and alien covered sci-fi universe of Mass Effect have entranced, enthralled, and enriched countless fans who’ve pour hours into their story driven campaigns. Imagine my surprise as I await the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition when I stumbled upon a novel from one of the companies very own character writers, Patrick Weekes. Not only has he helped in the writing of some of my favorite Mass Effect characters, but I found myself completely taken in by his own merry band of malcontents as I read through his book The Palace Job.
If you ever wanted to know what Ocean’s Eleven would be like in a land of magic and warrior women or what The Italian Job could have been if you replaced Charlie Croker’s crew with a mousy, steel toed locksmith, a virgin-addled unicorn, and a former love priestess gone goth, then it’s about time you picked this page-turner up. Hide your coin purses and watch your backs, it’s time to take a look at The Palace Job.
We’re Busting Outta Here
It’s hard to be an Urujar scouting captain sent to a prison in the sky. It is here, in the great flying city of Heaven’s Spire, where we are introduced to our beautiful, badass (beautifully badass?) protagonist, prisoner Loch. Or should I say beneath. Stuck in a jail below the magically airborne city, Loch has a score to settle.
With friend and fellow Urugar Kail at her side, there’s only one logical choice to finish what got them incarcerated in the first place: break out of the heavily guarded prison, plummet to the ground below, find a suite of uniquely skilled individuals, and get the job done. What follows their escape is a fast paced con filled with colourful characters, witty dialogue, and intense action befitting the films and games listed above.
I’ll be honest with you: this book is fun. The entire time I was reading I had a childish grin on my face because I was enjoying almost everything Patrick’s characters did and said. I’m also a sucker for a good heist story and while depth and struggle of this crime may not measure up to, say, something in the Gentlemen Bastard series, I was thoroughly engaged. Like Loch’s crew, I too was unable to turn away and move on from such an intriguing opportunity.
You sure you want to hire them?
Author Patrick Weekes is currently employed at BioWare working as a character writer. According to his own bio, he has been with the company since 2005 and while he now works on the next game in the Dragon Age franchise, he had previously worked on the Mass Effect trilogy – helping to write fan-favorite characters such as Mordin and Tali. Whether it’s through experience working on these franchises or simply a knack for writing flavourful, charming characters, Patrick does not disappoint in bringing his own ragtag band of miscreants to life.
This team continuously reminded me of those aboard Joss Whedon’s Firefly. They’re cocky, lovable, and packed with personality. Each of them had their own unique voice and style, helping to solidify them and differentiate them in my imagination as I read. There’s nothing worse than reading about a character who’s not only bland, but gets lost in the shuffle when surrounded by others. Whether it’s due to an uninteresting description, a one-dimensional identity, or both, no one enjoys reading about stock characters. Thanks to Patrick’s solid writing, you’ll find little of that here. From Tern kicking people in the shins with her metal toed boots and Icy Fist’s robotic, Spock-like nature to Ululenia’s virgin obsessed whimsy, I have no doubt you’ll end up finding a character to fall in love with.
Some may argue that these characters come off more “cool” than “well-rounded” and I suppose that’s a fair argument. While you learn quite a lot about each individual there is still one story being told; Loch’s. There’s a finite amount of time to spend on each individual, but enough information is gleaned in the book’s four hundred pages about everyone to satisfy without the need for a sequel. Though I would definitely not say no to one.
In regards to our main protagonist, I feel Patrick created a strong female character that doesn’t resort to being tough and bitchy for the sake of being tough and bitchy. Too many times I think male authors make the mistake of creating heroines who are extremely gruff and angry to paint them as strong, but instead they can come off as flat because they lack charisma and possess little actual character. Loch is as fine a captain as you’ll find in any media, with a tactician’s mind, a soldier’s fighting ability, a femme fatale’s seduction, and a leader’s heart. On top of it all, she’s a protagonist of color, as the Urujar are dark of skin and hair. If there’s anything we need more of – besides great female heroes – it’s great female heroes of different ethnicities.
I love it when a plan comes together.
To be honest, the story itself in The Palace Job is nothing we haven’t seen before. Protagonist was screwed over in the past, they throw together a bunch of oddballs with varying useful abilities to help them enact revenge, and through a number of setbacks they manage to think, fight, and luck their way through to victory. It’s not a new or particularly innovative take on this type of story, but it’s a well-written adventure that is thoroughly enjoyable. I never really felt like putting it down because I was so entertained.
What I think helps The Palace Job to stand out as a story worth picking up is how fun it is without having a miasma of brooding darkness hanging over it. As much as I love to watch Game of Thrones (haven’t picked it up yet. I’m sorry!), and enjoy darker stories with greyer leads and plots that are truly epic in scale, it’s refreshing to read a novel that’s genuinely adventurous and comical. Loch and company may be thieves – bad people in the eyes of the Justicars – but they are far more Robin Hood than Wall Street. They’re the little guy trying to take down the big guy, the underdog versus the heavyweight. Some might not be pleased to see the story end so neat and tidy, but in a world still reeling from the Red Wedding I don’t mind closing a book on a happy ending.
That being said I do have gripes, mostly revolving around the book’s antagonists. While Patrick certainly imbues his villains with gravitas and personality like his crew of thieves, they each seem fairly one-sided in their badness. It could be argued that as more is revealed about the lead antagonist, Archvoyant Silestine, his reasons for what he’s doing round him out a bit more, but there’s no denying the story comes down to a good versus evil template. Given the nature of the revenge plot I don’t mind the villains falling into the “We’re evil because power!” category, but it would have been nice to see some added depth.
There’s also issues I have with certain characters and a couple twists at the end I didn’t feel were necessary, but I don’t want to get too spoilery in this review. Suffice it to say, there’s one side character that is needed to help fulfill Loch’s ascent back to the Heavenly Spire, but that’s all that person is there for. It was a bit of a lazy idea and the character didn’t really add anything to Loch’s past, which is where the character comes from. If that character had been part of the entire novel I think they could have been better utilized. These don’t take away from the story, but they don’t add much either.
A floating city powered by magical crystals? Sign me up!
As an avid tabletop role player, I often find myself reading fantasy and wanting to run a campaign in these imaginative settings. While I may look at every author’s world and wonder what it would be like to roll initiative in it, there are some that call to mind character sheets and dice rolling far more than others. The world of The Palace Job, sparse as it is, is one such setting.
The only issue with Patrick’s world is that you don’t get to see enough of it. Loch and Kail pass through a couple of towns gathering their crew before heading to Heaven’s Spire and then the bulk of the novel takes place in its floating metropolis. His descriptions allow for vivid imaginings of the places and people in front of us, but the glimpses and lines of other cultures and wonders in the world make you crave a closer look into the rest of the author’s creation. That being said, Patrick paints a grand portrait of a world filled with airships, otherworldly beings, and fallen gods you can’t help but want to learn more about. Here’s hoping for a sequel.
One thing I appreciate in fantasy novels is when an author takes something very modern and transposes it into their medieval-type world. In The Palace Job there are news reporters that go to events and report on goings on in the world, ask questions and jot down answers like a modern journalist. They then take that information and give it over to a puppeteer. These puppeteers act out the political upheavals with a dragon puppet as the main newscaster and a manticore and gryphon puppet representing the two supporters of each political faction – the Learned and the Skilled. Think Fox News meets renfaire, where one puppet completely dominates the other depending on which town or city you’re in and the political landscape at the time. It plays a larger role in the narrative than you’d expect, but it’s quite entertaining and unobtrusive. Little touches like that in are some of my favourite things to come across.
One other thing…
The last thing I wanted to touch on was the fact that there is racism in The Palace Job as the Urujar are a darker skinned ethnicity. Now, as a white male I didn’t know whether or not this was something to applaud Patrick for touching on as he too is a white male. He could have chosen to leave it out and have those of different skin colours be completely friendly to one another with no animosity whatsoever, and that would have been fine. This novel does not hinge on the fact that there is a racial divide; it simply has moments where it is brought up to allow the reader to understand the cultural issues in the world.
The Palace Job is not a novel that, I believe, is trying to make a sweeping, global commentary about racial tension. It is a novel about justice and revenge, being victorious in the face of desperate odds, and, above all, having fun. The fact that it’s a book that allows you to step back at times and think, even for a moment, about certain injustices and tough topics that mirror that of our own world only makes it that much more worth a read.
The job is done.
Partrick Weekes has written a fun, entertaining story that will have you smiling ear to ear while you read it. There’ll be times you shake your head, roll your eyes, and wonder if there wasn’t a better way to do this or that, but it’s a solid book that I’m happy to have on my shelf. Go grab a copy and sit down for an action packed read. This is one treasure worth the effort.