Review: The Facefaker’s Game by Chandler J. Birch
Published by Simon & Schuster/ Simon451 on November 1st 2016
For fans of Patrick Rothfuss and Scott Lynch, a picaresque fantasy about a clever young beggar who bargains his way into an apprenticeship with a company of thieving magicians and uses his newfound skills in a vendetta against a ruthless crime lord.
Ashes lives in Burroughside—the dirtiest, most crime-ridden district in the huge city of Teranis. His neighbors are gangs of fellow orphans, homeless madmen, and monsters that swarm the streets at nightfall. Determined to escape Burroughside, Ashes spends his days begging, picking pockets, and cheating at cards. When he draws the wrath of Mr. Ragged, Burroughside’s brutal governor, he is forced to flee for his life, only to be rescued by an enigmatic man named Candlestick Jack.
Jack leads a group of Artificers, professional magicians who can manipulate light with their bare hands to create stunningly convincing illusions. Changing a face is as simple as changing a hat. Ashes seizes an opportunity to study magic under Jack and quickly befriends the rest of the company: Juliana, Jack’s aristocratic wife; William, his exacting business partner; and Synder, his genius apprentice. But all is not as it seems: Jack and his company lead a double life as thieves, and they want Ashes to join their next heist. Between lessons on light and illusion, Ashes begins preparing to help with Jack’s most audacious caper yet: robbing the richest and most ruthless nobleman in the city.
A dramatic adventure story full of wit, charm, and scheming rogues, The Facefaker’s Game introduces an unforgettable world you won’t soon want to leave.
The Facefaker’s Game is an entertaining coming of age story that features a number of familiar, but quite likable, tropes. I want to stress that it’s not a negative to contain tropes. I firmly believe these are traits that are so common because they can be quite enjoyable, which is the case within The Facefaker’s Game. The book has enough originality within it’s magic and characters to make the old familiar feel fresh and fun.
It feature a 14 year old boy, with no family, trying make it on the mean streets. And trust me, Burroughside is mean. In addition to the gangs of orphans and criminals, there are also monsters that come out at night. People don’t risk breaking curfew because staying out past dark pretty much typically means your life. Another interesting/mysterious feature of this book was certain people (though they don’t call them people) who would appear in Burroughside with no memory of who they are. The word amnesia was never used, but that is the general idea. And with no memory, no place to live, their lack of defenses against the monsters of the night means they are not likely to live long. It’s a mystery of the world that leaves you guessing a bit where they come from.
Ashes is not big or strong, but he is incredibly clever. So far, he survives through conning people with card games and working as a petty thief. Clever protagonists that get by on their wits, and maybe a bit of deception are often favorites of mine. It really makes way for an expected underdog to rise beyond what others expect of them. Ashes had enough unique qualities to him to keep me intrigued as he not only survives, but also lays out plans for vengeance. After conning a man he comes to know as Candlestick Jack, Ashes’ life takes an incredible turn. He is introduced to Jack’s world and the people who work for him, as well as his own capabilities, and starts to see opportunity to right some of the wrongs he sees with his world.
As for the political and social aspect to Birch’s, the town has an underground hierarchy/structure to it. Ashes and his like, the gangs of orphans that reside in Burroughside, are expected to pay a “tax” to the governor, and this price is getting steeper, making survival harder. And to complicate things, Ashes is not completely alone. He has a boy he has taken responsibility for, watches over and protects. It’s adds a nice dimension to his character as it allows the reader to see he is not always about the con, but is also fiercely caring and loyal.
At times, you can see that Ashes feels an enormous sense of obligation and tries to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders, finding it very difficult to trust anyone, trying to single handedly do everything rather than ask for help. It can make his world lonely in a way that I think even Ashes can’t quite see. At least not yet.I feel like this is one of those series where there is potential for tremendous growth in the protagonist as he ages and comes into his own, something I eagerly anticipate. This was a very strong debut from Birch and I am definitely looking forward to see where he takes the story next.
Review originally posted on The Speculative Herald.