2014; 291 pages. Book 1 (out of 5) of the “Bytarend” series. New Author? : Yes. Genre : Dark Fantasy; Steampunk (sort of); YA (maybe) . Overall Rating : 5½*/10.
Prince Tondbert is on the run. Castle Latraio has fallen, and the rest of the royal family is either dead or fleeing for their lives, and his bodyguard has been slain doing what bodyguards get paid to do. It’s time to disguise himself as a “thief king”, and seek safety in the neighboring town of Wikeadward. Maybe he can find a job there, since his princely career seems to be over
Sergeant Osric Ward has a job. But his career is on the line yet again. This is not the first time he’s punched a partner in the nose, and he’s getting to be very unpopular with his fellow city guards. But this time that’s not what’s got him in hot water in Wikeadward.
Indeed, both Tondbert and Osric share an unhealthy talent: pissing off the nobility in Wikeadward. Something needs to be done about that. Hey, no one’s heard anything from the town of Bytarend for a long time. Why not send these two troublemakers up there to investigate? If they can solve whatever’s the matter there, so much the better.
And if they fail, well a suicide mission also takes care of a couple of problems for the nobles now, doesn’t it?
What’s To Like...
The Bite On The Line is the debut book in a fantasy series by Simon Cantan. It is a quick and easy read, with sufficient wit to keep the overall tone lighthearted, much like in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books. Indeed, the whole “city guard” setup reminded me of Sam Vimes and the Night Watch in Ankh-Morpork.
There are a slew of characters to meet and greet, a lot of which have only cameo roles here, but perhaps will play greater parts as the series progresses. I enjoyed meeting the humanoid varieties too: the blue-skinned desertmen, and the larger, more technically-advanced greymen. The “critters” are limited to lifeleeches, animal leeches, and the lifeless, but when coupled with baddies, that's plenty to keep the story's pace a-hopping. And I suspect other beasties will be introduced in the subsequent books
The book is written in English, not American, so you will encounter word spellings like metres, labourers, sceptically, and storeys, not to mention the new (for me) slang word, taffer. I liked the Author’s Note at the end of the book; Simon Cantan lists Harry Harrison, Robert Asprin, Terry Pratchett, and Piers Anthony as inspirations for his choosing to pursue a career as an author. I’ve read books by all of those, and it is a great set of writers to emulate..
The writing style is a mixed bag. Overall, it reads like a YA tale aimed at boys – the storyline is straightforward, the romance is minimal, the action is non-stop, and there’s plenty of humor, but not to where it smothers the action. I chuckled at the “Gallant Mayoral Medal of Gallantry”. OTOH, there are some whores and prostitutes, a chin-to-brain sword thrust, and even a cross-dresser. So I’m not 100% sure the author intended this to be YA.
Kewlest New Word…
Taffer (n.) : a common criminal; any sort of lowlife person. (a made-up word, per Google)
“Be very afraid, Budic,” Osric said. “I have a long, pointy sword, and I know how to use it.”
Budic stared at Osric for a moment, then spun on his heels and ran away.
“What’s wrong with him?” Osric asked.
“You catch more flies with honey, Captain,” Lewelin said. “You asked me to come with you to talk to people. Why not let me?”
“Why would I want to catch flies?” Osric asked. “What a waste of honey.” (loc. 2201)
“Alright Captain, hop up here,” the professor said, indicating the seat at the end of the catapult arm.
“You’re going to shoot me at the castle, aren’t you?” Osric said.
“Of course not,” the professor said. “You’d never get there with just the energy of the catapult. We have to boost the launch with explosives. Don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe.” (loc. 3204)
The Bite on the Line sells for $0.99 at Amazon. The other four books in the series all sell for $3.99 apiece. Simon Cantan has a dozen or so other e-books available, some of which are parts of a couple other series, and they range in price from $2.99 to $6.99. He also has one novella, the first book of one of those series, for free.
“Bodies should have the common sense to stay still after they’re dead.” (loc. 387)
Alas, The Bite On The Line has a couple issues, besides the “Is it or isn’t it a YA novel?” conundrum.
Most notably, the storytelling, while action-packed, suffers from a lack of focus. Things start with a quest to find a small, grey box. Then Nick and Harry enter, as apparently major players, only to exit soon afterward, never to return. Then our dynamic duo investigates a serial killer, but this is merely a prelude to the forced exile to Bytarend. So the main plotline doesn’t begin until we’re more than a quarter of the way through the book.
The character development seemed weak to me, although this would be excusable if the target audience was YA boys. And while everything builds nicely to an exciting ending, the defeat of the Ultimate Baddie was somewhat of a letdown. After putting up a staunch fight, he just sort of suddenly quits.
And lastly, I never did figure out what the book’s title meant. One of the chapters is similarly named, and I went back and reread it, but even then, I couldn’t see a tie-in. Maybe I’m getting to be too dense for a YA plotline.
5½ Stars. It is an added bonus whenever a YA book can entertain both youngsters and adults alike. Unfortunately, The Bite On The Line seems likely to only keep the interest of young-teen boys. Let’s be clear, this is not necessarily a bad thing. I read the Hardy Boys books with a passion back in my salad days, and that series, along with Nancy Drew for young girl readers, were immensely popular at the time. But I cringe at the thought of having to read a Hardy Boys book as an adult.