The Gamble of the Godless by David Maine
Avin does not set out to become a hero–he’s merely looking to keep his brother from being killed in a misguided war. In the process, he becomes the center of a ragtag group of creatures on a quest. What begins as a day trip with a suspiciously eloquent footsoldier named Ax becomes an epic journey to discover more about the mysterious force that is drawing on weak-willed discontents all across the land.
While The Gamble of the Godlessby David Maine follows our friendly Avin (who performs his role as budding hero well, without the excessive angst that drapes many coming-of-age novels), he is not the reason to read the book. His animal companions are.
The characters that join Avin’s quest are impressive in their variety: a horse with a past, an explosives-wielding raccoon, and a tiny owl. Though not taking center stage, the female characters do their best to steal the show. I took an immediate liking to the feisty, one-armed sorceress, and the most charming creature award has to go to Summon-the-Wind, a drug-addled cheetah.
The characters are different enough that when they come together, tempers fly, and banter bites. Avin and this animal band of heroes are seeking the truth, but when a mantis tries to warn them about the Godless, a sorcerer sees fit to blow mantis brains all over the clearing. The ragtag bands seeks answers – and they’ll need to become friends to do so. Antagonism falls tragically by the wayside, as the varied cultures come to compliment each other.
And the cultures are varied; the author world-builds like a fiend. The environment is inventive, though perhaps detailed enough to bog down an impatient reader. The landscapes range from forests to ships to the fabled Barrens of ash, to The Net, the snakes’ gravity-defying stronghold. The story also hinges in no small part on the set-up of these lands. When the gods rebuilt a man-destroyed world, they decide to give all creatures their own and common languages.
While talking animals frequently become cutesy little people in furry coats, Maine dodges this trap, creating creatures that feel animal-like. Their social structures and speech patterns vary widely enough to create problems with casual communication–some speak in metaphor, and others use awesome dialogue tags like snarlbarked.
The most controversial narrative move the novel takes is a sudden perspective shift. For 98% of the story, the narrator sticks to Avin in 3rd person limited. But it reveals itself to be omniscient-in-sheep’s-clothing by devoting 2% of the narrative to the arch-fiend’s perspective near the end. This gives the reader a flash of satisfying insight into the baddie’s thoughts and motives, but it seems authorial manipulation to make the switch so late in the game.
I recommend this book to anyone searching for a light fantasy tale–and especially to those of you who are cheetah aficionados. It’s a stellar example of an Indie publication: well-written and professionally edited. Explore the book and the world of animals. See if you make it back alive.
Check out other books in our Independent Authors Series here.