Tor, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-7452-3
Tim Pratt’s sense of humor is his worst enemy when it comes to his fantasy romps. He clearly believes that Rodrick, our hero who first appeared in Liar’s Blade, is witty, debonair, sexy, and charming. Unfortunately, Rodrick ends up being a witless kind of smug who thinks far more highly about himself than anyone else ever could, preening and leering while doing his best impersonation of an ugly tourist. This buffoon wasn’t so bad in the previous book because, there, he was in an underdog situation. Put him as the White Foreigner Who Shows Up and Bests All the Stupid Natives in Liar’s Island, however, and that character becomes a hateful kind of toxic bog character.
If you have read the previous book, it would be clear that Rodrick has learned nothing of his experiences in that book. Still smug, insufferable, and plagued with the “always on” condition in which he thinks he’s a one-liner machine specializing in mangled Buffy-speak, he now travels to Golarion’s low-rent version of India, Jalmeray, upon the invitation of the ruler of the island. That man wants to buy Rodrick’s magical sword; Rodrick is already planning to steal from and double-cross the natives while looking down at them because they believe in the caste system and practice slavery. Naturally, a man who steals, lies, and double-crosses sometimes even without reason is the best person to judge other people on perceived moral inferiority.
I always dread reading stories of clearly European-styled fantasy warriors heading over to places modeled after China, India, and the like, because the story always ends up the same: the buff white guys will easily defeat and make fools of the natives despite often having little training in the natives’ martial or magical arts. Why? I don’t know, because they are the heroes, I guess. Just take a look at any of Dave Gross‘s books for this line. Tim Pratt’s book is the same, only worse because Rodrick actively resists being curious or wishing to be affected by the Jalmeray culture. This is terrible for me, the reader, because Liar’s Island is a first introduction to Jalmeray and the rest of Vudra, and Rodrick’s deliberate insistence on being a fool makes it such that any insight into the setting happens by accident. It is also not good because nobody here gives Rodrick any decent challenge, so he’s basically the ugly tourist on a destructive rampage in his search for money and shiny things – again, not exactly the kind of hero to introduce any setting.
By page 100, Rodrick’s inability to shut up, his constant failure in being a wit, his lazy reliance on his magic sword to do all the heavy work, his insistence on treating any female like a potential grope material and nothing more – all of this have made him one of the most painful lead characters I have the misfortune to follow. Pile on the fact that Rodrick ends up getting the upper hand over all the bad guys here apparently by luck or accident, all the while being proud of his laziness, cultural xenophobia, and bad attitude, and I get this feeling that Tim Pratt is trying way too hard to create a “cool” character. This Rodrick is a caricature of the Rodrick in the previous book – this one needs to be put down at the business end of an orc’s battle ax. By the last page, I have had it with his constant smugness, preening, and hypocrisy.
The author is aware of Rodrick’s flaws, mind you, so it is clear that Rodrick being this toxic bog is a result of a huge miscalculation on Mr Pratt’s part. He is aiming for a charming, debonair, witty devil may care type of scoundrel character. He doesn’t have the wit or the comedic timing needed to make such a character likable, however, so Rodrick ends up being a colossally hateful character instead. Given that the hateful fool just won’t shut up at all – really, he is just “on” all the time, 100% smug and insufferable 24/7 – this means Liar’s Island is a book best enjoyed with liberal amounts of alcohol close at hand. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.