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Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite
The Thirteenth Hour by Trudie Skies is a speculative fiction novel and the first in the gaslamp fantasy series The Cruel Gods. And my goodness, are the Gods very cruel indeed. There are twelve in the intricate world built from scratch by Skies, as well as twelve mortal species/races with one god for each, and each race of mortals with an intrinsic and specialised power. They are the inhabitants of Chime, a free city that has many rules with horrible consequences should they be broken. Still, the Godless walk among the deeply faithful and the not-so-deeply and 'naughty but want to survive' faithful, and the Wardens, who are essentially footsoldiers for the Gods who cannot actually access Chime themselves, in a trickle-down power play to root out the Godless. This is a tough task when there is domain after domain, free will, a conflict of cultures, and clashes between pretty much all of them. In the center we have Kayl, a Godless with a previously untapped dynamism and Quentin, aka Quen, who's got a badge and now a big moral dilemma. The morality part being wholly subjective and all of it being dangerous.
I feel like I've already overstayed my welcome with that lengthy descriptor, but The Thirteenth Hour has a lot of moving parts and I still feel I haven't given Trudie Skies what she and this book deserve. You're really going to have to hang in there for the first chunk of the story because the slow burn is more like a super simmer to small bubbles to a complete roll and splatter of scalding excitement. What does this mean? It's not a snooze-fest by any stretch of the imagination—and holy cow does this stretch the imagination—but it takes a minute to click all the bits together. I love Kayl and I like Quen. Both are damaged in their own ways and have traits that 'humanize' them in the mind of a reader. On their own, they wouldn't get far and this makes them easy to connect with. We all need a tribe, and the characters Skies surrounds them with have full blown romances and lives and pain that collaboratively elevate Kayl and Quen through an extraordinary arc. Readers are weird about what is steampunk and what is gaslamp, so if Skies says this book is both it means it is okay for me to say that too. It's both. Mostly gaslamp but lovingly steamy and punky too. I am really excited for the next book and I can only describe Skies' ability to foresee how well the book would be received by using her own words: “She’s a god. She ripped the information straight from my mind...”