Beautiful to Behold and a Pleasure to Read.
When the cover contest for this year’s SPFBO (the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off) began, this entry made a strong impression, so I read the blurb and wanted to read the content even more. Adventures on the high seas, and monsters so terrifying that they leave men completely unhinged, if they survive at all.
As a current SPFBO entrant which made semi-finalist for its assigned blog, The Qwillery, I have the feeling this one will be as appealing to many as it was for me. This is an adventure fantasy with a very classic feel, a unique premise, and the newest nightmare to haunt dreams. The Tallowman. One would believe that the leviathan on the cover which is threatening trade routes and livelihoods would be the true horror here, but the thing hunting down Sophia Blake is much more frightening.
The premise may be familiar, but the setting gives it a nice twist. A young woman, terrified because she has the “taint”, a father who only wishes to protect her, and a sea captain who has hit hard times since the war that drove the coin of the crown into his pockets ended.
Although by most standards this book would be quite ordinary, there are a few things about it which really let it shine. Good writing and dialogue with a polished result and the abundance of ancient sailing vessel expertise shows in the details. A great deal of the story takes place at sea and the vessels, crews, and protagonists alike must deal with the travails that accompany sea travel powered only by wind and currents. The nautical jargon found in the book is very detailed. The author either had a deep love of ancient sailing vessels with lots of practical experience and knowledge, or they had researched it so well as to cover every detail. Upon asking the author, it turns out it was terrific research, and it shows.
Jenkins blew a long blast on his whistle and jogged forward. ‘Shorten sail! Stand by to take in royals and flying jib! Man royal clewlines, weatherbraces, flying jib downhaul! Stand by royal halliards, flying jib halliards!’ he roared.
The detailed refitting of the Game Bird, and the scenes at sea, are filled with practical and realistic knowledge. For those who enjoy a good nautical fantasy story. On the hunt for a leviathan would be enough for most, but there is also something hunting Sophia Blake. The magic system is a good one with varying degrees of ability for those with “the taint” and hints that the general populace has no idea that the tainted are not actually institutionalized in being registered.
Captain James Faulkner has known the Blake family since his earliest days as a sailor. They always had a place at the table and a bed for him whenever his ship brought him to their port. It’s been years since he has seen them, and during his absence, and while making a name for himself in the war, Mrs. Blake has passed away, and Sophia and her father Uriah have only one another. When he discovers himself nearly bankrupt, and seeks a way to restore himself financially, Faulkner discovers a bounty on a great Leviathan that would set him up for life and make a crew rich along with him. He seeks a backer for his venture and seeks out his long time patron, Uriah Blake. Once he has the capital he needs, James finds he has to deal with the accompanying Sophia. Her father has sent her along to oversee his investment and to keep her safe from those he has heard are seeking her out. Rather than the usual story of simply buying a seaworthy vessel, they purchase a derelict merchant vessel in the mud flats and set to refitting the ship.
Uriah’s arc in the adventure, when he in turn discovers the actual danger his daughter is in, is forced to run and as he searches for Sophia, and his story is loaded with danger and makes a fantastic accompaniment to the cast and action. A lot is happening simultaneously in different places and the result is a page turner. The naturally progressing romance angle is very well done, and the damsel in distress is instead a force to be reckoned with. There’s an element of romance involved between the two main protagonists which doesn’t feel the least contrived. The story revolves around it’s inevitability, but it doesn’t make it feel like a trope. There’s a dark element to the story that strips it back to the cheer horror of certain dangerous creatures and their very existence in the world created here. There’s a new bogeyman for your nightmares and it’s a Tallowman. A new fantastical horror and between the leviathan and Tallowman this book has a lot to offer in the vein of monsters and demons.
Aidan Walsh has written a solid fantasy story that’s a real pleasure to read. For a debut, it is a polished piece that only needs a bit of format changes to keep the quickly changing point of view marked for the reader. The Game Bird shows imagination and mixes enough darkness to keep your excitement level high and makes it easy to recommend and easy to escape into.
An evil is growing. The Realm is under attack. A leviathan has risen from the depths and is destroying the fleets that feed Stormhaven. Stuck ashore and drowning in debt, Captain James Faulkner resolves to hunt the sea monster and claim the enormous bounty on the beast. Sophia Blake’s life looks effortless. But she carries a secret, an occult curse that is capable of destroying both her and her nation. Sophia knows her time is running out. The Tallowman is a slowly decaying melding of demon and man. This monstrous assassin is desperate to capture Sophia and will let nothing stand between it and its prey.
Since his wife died, the sober lawyer Uriah Blake has wanted nothing more than to live a quiet life and enjoy what time he has left with his daughter, Sophia. When he learns that the Tallowman is pursuing her, he is forced to cast aside his books and his ink and join a shadowy war against a terrible foe. As these hunts build to their shattering conclusion, Faulkner, Sophia and Uriah will be thrown together and forced to confront malevolent forces beyond their imagining. The Game Bird is a swashbuckling black powder fantasy, wrapped around a spine of darkness.
- Print Length: 402 pages
- Publication Date: April 2, 2018
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B07BWBH244
Aidan keeps a slowly expanding encyclopaedia on The Game Bird’s world at https://unpathedwaters.com/ You can reach Aidan on his Facebook page @AidanRWalshauthor or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AidanRWalsh
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