The Incorruptibles – John Horner Jacobs
Release date: August 1st, 2014
Age Group: Adult
In the contested and unexplored territories at the edge of the Empire, a boat is making its laborious way up stream. Riding along the banks are the mercenaries hired to protect it—from raiders, bandits, and, most of all, the stretchers, elf-like natives who kill any intruders into their territory. The mercenaries know this is dangerous, deadly work. But it is what they do. In the boat the drunk governor of the territories and his sons and daughters make merry. They believe that their status makes them untouchable. They are wrong. And with them is a mysterious, beautiful young woman, who is the key to peace between warring nations and survival for the Empire. When a callow mercenary saves the life of the Governor on an ill-fated hunting party, the two groups are thrown together. For Fisk and Shoe—two tough, honorable mercenaries surrounded by corruption, who know they can always and only rely on each other—their young companion appears to be playing with fire. The nobles have the power, and crossing them is always risky. And although love is a wonderful thing, sometimes the best decision is to walk away. Because no matter how untouchable or deadly you may be, the stretchers have other plans.
This book had caught my eye early on because of its beautiful cover. Even now I can’t stop staring at it. It reminds me of the drawings I used to make: colour a whole page, paint over it with black paint and then use something sharp to draw whatever you wanted. It would come out beautifully in the colour(s) you’d used first with a stunning black background. Not only that, but I’d also read a lot of very positive reviews about it. I was intrigued by the quote by Patrick Rothfuss stating it was “a strange alchemy, a recipe I’ve never seen before”. I went in with high expectations.
It is certainly a very interesting book. Patrick Rothfuss was right in saying it is a strange mixture of different genres. Fisk and Shoestring are two very different men who have been roaming the lands as mercenaries together for nearly a decade. This time they have taken an escort contract. They have to escort the Cornelian, a boat with a Governor and his family on board. They are supposed to follow the boat on the banks of the river, scouting the territory and keeping an eye out for the stretchers, or Vaettir. The stretchers are elf-like creatures, but nothing like the ones we’re used to read about. No beauty and grace here, but deadly speed, sharpened teeth and a bloodthirst that will make your skin crawl. Shoestring himself has dvergar blood, so as you can see there are some typical high fantasy elements in here, though they haven been turned upside down. An interesting factor was the major role that engineering plays in this world. The engineering here uses daemonfire to power everything. Even bullets are propelled by releasing little daemons that are trapped in with the bullets. Every experienced reader of SFF or horror knows that daemons mostly aren’t good news. Neither are they here. Shoestring even believes that the using daemonfire will taint your soul, so he’s one of the only characters in this book who refuses to use the guns.
I absolutely loved the characters in this book. Fisk and Shoestring are two unlikely friends, Fisk being a scarred, distant man with a particular hate for the stretchers and Shoestring being more open and caring. The family of Governor Cornelius are quite a special bunch of people. The Governor himself spends most of his time drunk and overconfident, a characteristic that will ultimately cost him dearly. His eldest son isn’t much better and possibly even worse. The youngest daughter is a typical socialite, laughing everything away and taking nothing seriously. The only two sane people in that family are the youngest son, Secundus and the oldest daughter, Livia. The engineer on board of the ship controlling the powerful daemon that powers the ship is a character you can’t wrap your head around at first, though he shows his true colours ultimately. Put a cast of characters that clash like that in a land full of hostile killers and you’re sure that get a lot of spectacle. On that front, the reader won’t be disappointed. From exhilarating to gory, the action keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Nearing the end of the story the book takes its use of daemons even further and deals with possession and its repercussions. This too makes for spectacular and gruesome reading. Enough to keep a reader satisfied, you would say, and it is, though somehow I felt like something was missing when I flipped the last page. Though there is enough action and the characters are very entertaining, I would have liked a bit more depth. This is a very personal feeling, as I’m sure the book was simply written this way, focussed on the ship, the family, the mercenaries and their quest. I missed some more background about the Vaettir, about the place they discover at the end of the book, about the daemons and their realm. It could be that these subjects will be elaborated on in the second book in this series, Foreign Devils, but for now I am left with a feeling of incompleteness. Aside from that, this was a very special book with a mix of several elements that might be difficult to combine with as much success by a less skilled writer.