The Moonsteel Crown by Stephen Deas
The Moonsteel Crown was also on my most-anticipated releases in Feb 2021, from the stables of Angry Robot books. Stephen Deas' memories of flame series was an absolute fun romp - with dragons, backstabbing empires and all around ashes and ruins. In this series opener, Stephen employs all his strengths sprinkling in sprightly dark humor, crackling action and an intriguing plot full of mystery and twists to make The Moonsteel Crown a flat-out fun read.
The city of Varr comes across as a typical medieval city full of gangs that control and run different parts of a crowded market (Gangs are named Spicers, The Unrulys, the Weavers etc) and this is where our three protagonists, Seth Fings and Myla have eked out their living. Seth is smart but has been bullied all his life for being a scrawny coward. He always wanted to be a priest and trains hard as an acolyte within the Temple once he gets this coveted opportunity but he gets thrown out for reasons, he doesn't quite comprehend fully. Fings is a simpleton, a master-thief whose life revolves around his family. As one who has grown on the streets, he knows every nook, cranny and tunnels that wind under the City. Myla is the outsider - from the neighbouring city of Deephaven, she has trained to be a 'sword-monk' and sticks out like a sore thumb within Varr, because of her twin shiny sunsteel swords. Now all three of them are allies, having joined up this gang called the Unrulys run by a ruthless ganglord named as Blackhand.
As far as plots go, with this set up you know things are going to explode in your face - with some pivotal event ticking off and derailing the life-paths of all three of our POVs. And it does, when they agree to this new job hatched by another gang-member Sulfane. Sulfane, lovingly referred to as the Murdering Bastard by Fings brings all of them together to pull off a daring heist, only with the condition that they shouldn't open up the package once the job is done and are to dutifully hand-over the same to Sulfane. Of course, they are free to help themselves to the silver. Three crates full.
Naturally Fings couldn't resist 'looking' - and then life goes to hell. For all involved in the job, including the unlucky Seth who just happens to be good friends with Fings and of course, Myla who was the "muscle" hire for the job.
On the surface, the story reads like a standard epic fantasy fare, with three good-for-nothing low-lives who are struggling to make ends meet in this brutal wintry city and then destiny pulls them into this hot mess, where conspiracies being hatched end up in murder and plots are being carried out, to exact revenge and justice. But hell no, Deas' takes a refreshing POV on this whole subject or a well known fantasy trope, if you will. A view from down south, the usual backbenchers of typical fantasy plots - an ordinary thief, a swordswoman on the run from her past and a priest disgraced from his community. The series of extraordinary events that transpire are all about the three trying to desperately hold onto their miserable lives. While the Kings, Emperors and Prince, princesses are plotting big in the background, the story of The Moonsteel Crown rolls along, ambles along actually, outside the periphery of all these royal conspiracies.
Deas' excels in drawing up sympathetic characters and with the reader dropped right into the middle of this story at the beginning of a cruel winter, we are given a ringside view of the life in the gutters. Character arcs deftly drawn up by a master, Deas expertly draws us into the story. Fings and Myla are the characters who still retain a bit of 'good' in them. Myla is guilty about her 'job' as a mercenary for hire and her past sins have caught up with her that doesn't give her much leeway to wallow in self--pity as she is busy dodging sell-swords and trying to stay alive. Fings, the accomplished thief, wins us over with his honest guileless approach towards life, guided only by the philosophy that he wants to provide well enough for his Ma Fings and sisters. Seth on the other hand, is a complex nuanced and a little bit of a 'grey' character. Selfish, flawed to the core and a coward to boot. Certainly not likable but honestly, this was a tough character to write up am sure and Deas does a great job in getting us readers to connect to his hapless past and how he has become like this, today.
With tons of action and relentless tongue-in-cheek humor, this is epic fantasy told from the view-point of that side-character whom you usually tend to overlook and miss. Deas brings verve and color to this intriguing plot by making his narrators unreliable and thus catching the readers unaware time and again. An absolutely cracking read, a story arch that spirals downward into a glorious mess and is a compelling dark screwball comedy-action-horror piece. A piece that sticks the dagger into you right from the beginning and just twists it in further as we go. Recommended!