Sunday, February 26, 2012

100 Books #18 - A.J. Hartley's ACT OF WILL

Who would have thought a brash, know-it-all teenager could make such a charming narrator? Such, though, is most definitely the case of Will Hawthorne, the antiheroic protagonist of what would otherwise be a run-of-the-mill fantasy. He's 18 years old, an actor and playwright whose youth and slight, perhaps even spindly build has confined him to playing female parts, and, most amusingly of all, he doesn't believe in magic. How could I not be charmed?

As must be the case, this unlikely hero is torn from the world he knows (and which has made him a know-it-all), a theater company in a second-rate town that has been added relatively recently to the vaguely menacing and greedy Diamond Empire. He is accused behind his back of being a rebel, of writing seditious plays, and is chased into the waiting company of a party of adventurers straight out of any D&D play group. The adventurers help him escape the Empire's guards and bring him along on their latest mission: to find out what is behind a series of raids that are all but destroying the commerce of three principalities that are distant enough from the Empire's current borders to still be free. Again, bog-standard fantasy, but livened up by Will's scoffing, scathing narration. He mocks a companion's magic sword. He tries (and fails, repeatedly) to hit on the pretty swordswoman. He gets in big trouble for mocking a duke to his face. He's totally a teenager from hell.

But he is also an acute student of human behavior and motivation, and thinks well on his feet, and can be tricked by circumstance into accidental bravery -- also totally like a teenager. Were he a modern lad, he would definitely play D&D, and would be the bane of his game master through his talent for coming up with completely off-the-wall solutions to problems that the GM cannot quickly find a way to defeat. What a brat.

What an awesome, awesome brat.

And his adventures are far from over. I'm sure the Diamond Empire would still like to get its steely gauntlets on him, and there's still a whole world of fantasy tropes and figures at which to scoff. Which is to say that yes, there is a sequel, Will Power, and yes, I will be snagging it forthwith.

Fun stuff!

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