Authors: Danni Bennett and Jaida Jones
Publication date: November 10, 2020
Genre: young adult fantasy
My rating: 4.25/5 stars
It’s no secret that I love dark fantasy, morally gray characters, queer characters, thieves and other sketchy people, sarcastic humor, and ragtag teams of misfits. So it should come as no surprise that Master of One, a book that combines literally ALL of those elements, was a huge hit for me. I laughed. I cringed. My heart twisted a few times. What starts out as the story of an irreverent thief on a mission way above his pay grade morphs into a sprawling, slow-building tale of fae, magical silver animals, evil sorcerers, corrupt monarchy, and all that other fun stuff. I’ll admit, I was a little confused at the start, but once the story really got going, I was very invested, and I’m already dying for the sequel. (Plus, huge bonus–there’s some nice physical disability rep in the book as well!)
Sinister sorcery. Gallows humor. A queer romance so glorious it could be right out of fae legend itself. Master of One is a fantasy unlike any other.
Rags is a thief—an excellent one. He’s stolen into noble’’s coffers, picked soldier’s pockets, and even liberated a ring or two off the fingers of passersby. Until he’s caught by the Queensguard and forced to find an ancient fae relic for a sadistic royal sorcerer.
But Rags could never have guessed this “relic” would actually be a fae himself—a distractingly handsome, annoyingly perfect, ancient fae prince called Shining Talon. Good thing Rags can think on his toes, because things just get stranger from there…
With the heist and intrigue of Six of Crows and the dark fairy tale feel of The Cruel Prince, this young adult fantasy debut will have readers rooting for a pair of reluctant heroes as they take on a world-ending fae prophecy, a malicious royal plot, and, most dangerously of all, their feelings for each other.
I have a whole lot of feelings about this book, and the vast majority of them are positive. To start with two of the easiest, I think it’s best to explain them together: the characters and the writing style. The book’s characters are vividly drawn, with distinct attitudes and quirks. Though there are quite a few of them, they are introduced very gradually, so it is relatively easy to become familiar with each of them without getting overwhelmed. Sometimes, books from multiple points of view can get confusing or annoying, but this book rotates a third-person limited perspective around four primary characters (plus one extra near the end), which really doesn’t seem like too much. A large part of this is attributable to the writing style as well: for all that the characters engage in extensive subterfuge with their actions, when it comes to their internal monologues, they say what they mean with delightful bluntness. The result is a blend of artful insights and dry humor that made me laugh out loud more than once. Here’s a loose rundown of what I love about everyone:
It wasn’t much hope, but that was for the best, since hope and Rags didn’t get along.
This boy is my favorite. Hands down, no questions asked, the best character here. He’s a sarcastic gay thief, trying to ignore his past trauma and present emotions, always quick with with a snappy (often inappropriate) comment whenever the tension gets too high. Even when on a quest to maybe save the kingdom, he can and will think about how to steal your silver spoons while he’s at it. He’s more than a little jaded, and pretty rough around the edges, but his heart is in the right place.
Tbh, as much as I love the other characters, I would have been 100% fine if the whole story was from Rags’s point of view, because really, he just makes me smile–even when he’s upset, he is hilarious and compelling.
Impossibly tall, impossibly golden, with a jaw cut sharper than a broken window.
Yeah, his full name is Shining Talon of Vengeance Drawn in Westward Strike, but that’s kind of a mouthful, so we’ll go with just Tal for short. He’s gorgeous, agile, and calm, and he takes everything far too literally–but hey, he can’t help it that he was asleep for ages while the world assumed his kind was dead. He actually has some Castiel vibes, for the Supernatural fans out there–very powerful, very attached to one human, and knows exactly nothing about slang or jokes. Which, you know, makes him pretty hilarious.
Anger was shield and weapon, and the ladies of House Ever-Loyal needed both.
Lady Inis Fraoch of House Ever-Loyal is always angry, and rightfully so: her brother was accused of treason, her whole family was slaughtered, and she was exiled in a show of “mercy” with her younger sister. When the world makes her life impossibly hard, her endless stores of rage keep her moving forward. This is a girl who Gets. Shit. Done. It’s not that she doesn’t want to be at peace; she just can’t afford it. Does her short temper get annoying at times? Sure. But it also makes her human, and it gives her a flaw to balance out her quick wit, stubborn determination, and fierce loyalty to her few surviving family members. I do wish the main gang had more girls in it, but Inis manages to hold her own in this group of boys, so if we’re really only going to get one for the majority of the book…she’s a good one to have.
He was one tough nut, more so because he’d been strong enough to stay softhearted.
For the record, it’s pronounced like “sore-luh.” He’s the son of the queen, but he was born with a severe birth defect causing pain and mobility problems on one side of his body, requiring a brace to walk with and ultimately leading to his informal exile. Somhairle is the sort of disability rep I love to see: his injury does create major limitations for him, which are not casually ignored, but he also takes the fact that people often underestimate him and uses it to his advantage. His ability to deal with chronic pain makes him, in some ways, the strongest character of the bunch. He is clever and kind and believes the best in people even after being dealt an aggressively shitty hand by the universe. In short, he is a little sunshine boy who must be protected (though really, he mostly can protect himself).
“That’s the spirit, my soft little fighter.”
Another pronunciation note, this one is pronounced cah-VAHN. Gotta love those Irish-inspired names. Cab deserted the queen’s army when he couldn’t morally abide by what was going on there, and…well, his intentions may have been good, but fate has a funny way of drawing people back into fights they thought they’d left behind. Cab’s biggest struggle is figuring out how to reconcile a past that he regrets with his new mission in life. But he’s handy in a fight, even if he is mentally a little wishy-washy. Cab might be my least-favorite of the main characters, because he isn’t quite as sharp as most of the others, but I’m still a sucker for characters seeking atonement for past mistakes and reluctant heroes, so he’s all good.
A shitty, sneaky sorcerer.
God, Morien is awful. A villain who loves power, who wields way more of it than he should, and who has approximately zero qualms about being a horrible person. His preferred breed of magic, a practice known as mirrorcraft, is terrifying in both its scope and its ability to inflict harm, and I love the creativity that went into exploring all the ways he can use it. He’s a villain I love to hate, the sort of powerful baddie who makes you wonder how it is even possible for the protagonists to win. (He’s not a point-of-view character, but we all love a good villain, so gotta include him for good measure.)
Okeydoke, main character description over–the point is, I love them all, and their separate narrative threads wove together nicely to form a much larger story.
This, however, ties into the one issue I had with the book: the beginning was very abrupt, and it took a bit to establish what all the narrative threads actually were. In typical fantasy-book fashion, the first chapter was from something outside the core group of characters, in order to set the scene, but it introduced so many characters who actually ended up being really important later on…only by the time they were reintroduced, I had almost forgotten about them. And then, as soon as it switched to Rags’s story, it just dove right in with very little setup or explanation. I expected some immersive worldbuilding once the story picked up, but it never quite got there; we had bits and pieces along the way, but for all the excellent character work, the world’s lore remained vague in many other ways. Once the story found its footing, it was smooth sailing–but the initial waters were choppy, and they may have put off some readers who would otherwise enjoy the book if they persisted.
A few other small things I liked:
- The slowest of slow-burn romances, executed well–and, more importantly, not taking over the plot, but instead just complementing it.
- A side character who is a trans woman–I hope we get more from her in book two!
- Multiple characters with some variety of PTSD, which we need more of in fantasy. These characters go through major traumatic events and somehow come out unscathed, so it’s nice to see them struggling to grapple with their pasts.
- The silver animals. I won’t spoil too much about what they are or where they come into play, but they’re a big deal and I think they’re super cool. In particular, their telepathic communication and one specific fighting technique had me very impressed.
- A concept of fae where they aren’t just magical, but are also somewhat scientific! They have unique technologies, and while there are certainly magical elements, many components of the fae–including their odd black bones–feel more like tech than enchantment.
- Many characters in the book are duplicitous, but all in different ways: some lie outright, some deceive by omission, some use subtle courtly backstabbing techniques, some just keep all their cards close to their chests…but all of their lying habits work together nicely and create a diverse skill set for the group as a whole.
In short: Master of One is a character-driven, complex, crisply narrated adventure, and even with its minor stumbles as far as pacing and worldbuilding, the end result was a story I loved. I can’t wait to see where this team of misfits ends up next.
Yes, there are more! I think my character ones provided a nice exhibition, but there were several others that I think are worth sharing, along with some of my thoughts under a few of them:
They couldn’t trust each other, what with Rags being a liar and Shining Talon’s entire people being known for their deceptions. Their alliance was doomed.And yet…we all know exactly where feelings like this are going to lead… 😉
His confidence was stupid, but it must’ve been pleasant.
Somhairle gathered his courage, wrought a heart brace of its disparate parts, and held fast.
“The Spoon,” Shining Talon repeated darkly. “A foul name for a foul item.”Yes, he is talking about a literal spoon.
He hadn’t realized moving forward would mean he’d have to come to terms with what he saw when he looked back.
“Shit,” Rags said.
“Indeed,” Shining Talon agreed. Rags was clearly a bad influence on him.
Not home. She wouldn’t ever think of it as home. It was the place where what was left of home slept at night.
“There is beauty in cruelty. Beauty is what survives when everything ugly is stripped away. And one must be cruel to triumph against ugliness.”(This line is spoken by a not-nice person, but still gives you something to think about, right?)
He was letting him do it. Which confirmed it was the right thing to do, since the right thing was always the not-as-fun thing.I mean…not wrong.
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About the Authors
Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett are married co-authors (without wanting to divorce yet) who live in Brooklyn with 8 cats. Danielle is from Victoria, British Columbia, and works freelance as an independent editor, proofreader and plagiarism checker. Jaida is a native New Yorker. Their published work includes four novels from the Volstovic Cycle, in addition to their many twitter rants on intersectional feminism and the NYC subway system. COMING FALL 2020 FROM HARPERTEEN: MASTER OF ONE.
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