Tor, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-8453-5
Shy Knives is a reference to our protagonist, Shaia “Shy” Ratani, whose trusty weapon is a dagger that she uses with deadly efficiency. Unfortunately, she is another one of those smart-ass characters that fantasy authors love to believe are the second coming of the Whedon Sue. You know the sort, I’m sure – the ceaselessly wisecracking thing that believes she is far more hilarious than she actually is. Fortunately, the author has a far better comic timing than, say, Tim Pratt, and at least Shaia actually earns her rewards through her own efforts, unlike that vile thing Mr Pratt has created for his own Pathfinder Tales series. Let’s just say that if “I’d rather die!” is not an available option, I’d bang Shaia and then kill Rodrick five thousand times and still never get bored.
Okay, the story. Shaia is on the run from the assassins of her homeland, Katapesh (think something like Arabian Nights, only more politically correct because Paizo is into that kind of thing big time these days), and she ends up in Yanmase, a city far north in the not-so-glorious-anymore land of Taldor – a city where disenfranchised nobles settle down and play while waiting for an opportunity to somehow make it big again in the capital city. She is hired by a noblewoman of an impoverished house who wants to discover who killed her fiancé. That Shaia does, and she soon finds herself embroiled in a plot involving angry centaurs, creepy demons, and megalomaniacs bent on world domination.
The first problem with this one is that the author seems to have ADHD or something. He is pretty good at pacing and setting up a scene, but each time he builds a scene to something good, he’d then throw in a wrench and drag the heroine off to a different tangent, making me grit my teeth in annoyance. The end result makes it seem as if this book was initially a short story, until the author padded things up by throwing in random combat encounters here and there to extend its length.
Another problem is the heroine’s exasperating tendency to downplay her abilities even as the author demonstrates that Shaia is more amazing than anything a Care Bear can shoot out of its rear end. She single-handedly takes down two herds of marauding centaurs while saying that she sucks at combat. She complains that she is toxic at relationships when every other secondary character (both male and female) either want to shag her or think she’s fabulous. This particular pattern makes Shaia look like one of those horribly insincere wretches who would put on a fake wide-eyed amazed gasp each time someone praises them. “Me? Awesome? Do you really mean me? Is there another… me? Oh, you think I’m awesome. You really do! Can you tell me that again? And again? And again? Oh, I feel validated now!” By the time this book creaks into its second half, I’m so fed up with this kind of behavior that I am just counting the minutes until I’m done with this story and I don’t have to read about this disingenuous wretch anymore.
All these issues are actually most unfortunate, because at its core, Shy Knives is actually a fun, rollicking story. As I’ve mentioned earlier, the author demonstrated a deft hand at setting up scenes and keeping the pacing going… well, the last is as long as the mood hits him, and he’s also pretty good at setting up scenes of gratuitous violence. If for some reason you find yourself in a land full of angry centaurs, this book can come in handy if you want to learn how to cut some smelly horse-things up good. While the plot is a simple and the villain is easily guessable – the author even stops trying to hide this person’s identity after a while, because there’s no point to it – the heroine’s ability to extricate herself from sticky situations using her wiles and always reliable hardcore violence makes for some fun reading. It’s just a shame that Shaia’s persistent verbal diarrhea and her determination to emulate an insincere, desperate attention-seeking teenager all end up making it so hard to like her.