Army of Brass by 21 International Authors in the Collaborative Writing Challenge

I signed on to receive an ARC of this novel because the concept intrigued me and I wanted to see how it turned out. There were some rough spots, and threads I expected to follow that vanished, but overall, the story is satisfying. The cast is quite large, but the characters are interesting and each had their moment in the sun. With a few exceptions, though, the characters skated the edge of depth, opting more for determined than becoming deeper as they discovered the complexity of the situation.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the story. It is fun in a campy way, offering a sometimes light tale mixed with a tangle of conspiracies and less risk than you might expect despite appearances. It manages to bring up deeper issues in context, but doesn’t require the reader to think hard in order to enjoy the story. This makes it a more complex read in reflection than it felt when swept up in the moment.

The novel starts out a bit over the top. I don’t know whether I just got used to the bombastic style or things smooth out after the first chapter or so, but I stopped being bothered by it pretty quickly. In fact, the tone reminded me of the movie Flash Gordon, which was very much over the top but appropriately so.

The villains of the piece, for there were several, seem rather straightforward upon introduction. Then a side comment here or a bit of history there shows things are not quite what they seem. The king’s fear raised in the blurb seems like a fear of the unknown and foolish considering what they face. Instead, we discover there are costs the Tinkerers either don’t know about or are dismissing out of hand. There are villains without villainy, friends who have their own agendas, and choices made in opposition of all they seek to accomplish. Again, you can skate on the surface, but there are many rewards to digging a little deeper into the motivations of the various sides in this conflict.

Also speaking to the complexity, I loved how elements were seeded such that each group holds a part of the puzzle, and possibly not enough of one to truly understand what they undertake. This process is a matter of half experimentation, half documentation, and half knowledge passed from generation to generation. Yes, I realize I’ve listed three halves when there can be only two. The story is composed of layers, each with a significance and relationship to the Army of Brass. When laid on top of each other, there’s both overlap and large gaps in places. Not in the story, but in what each character is aware of. There are other twists as well that came as a surprise, but were well founded in what came before, something I very much appreciate. As I mentioned above, some story seeds didn’t end up followed, but I don’t know if they’re red herrings, overlooked, or signs of a second story to come. Whatever their purpose, they added to the neat puzzle pieces I collected throughout.

There are a lot of characters to keep track of, but a few are the linchpins and I didn’t have an issue tracking the rest for the most part. When I did, it took very little time to get reoriented despite how I usually find a large cast difficult. Part of this success is the web of relationships, emotional, functional, and familial, that pull these characters together and force them apart. It brings in a larger context than is on the page, and the power of emotional connections is an underlying theme to the whole story. This effect actually worked against me at times because I connected with the characters and knowing they were headed off to war made me nervous about their hope for survival. The other piece lies in the shifting point of view per chapter or scene, something that threw me only once when the results came before I knew information had arrived, and then only for a paragraph or two.

On the surface, the book is campy good fun, but for those who want more, the underlying threads are quite deep and mired in the twists of psychology. I’m impressed by the results of a collaborative process, and the skill with which the story was edited to blend everything together smoothly.

FYI: The novel is on sale for one dollar until the 13th, a paltry sum to explore such a fascinating project, and a percentage of each sale goes to support literacy.

P.S. I received this ARC from the publisher in return for an honest review.

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