Fair Rebel (Steph Swainston)

Fair Rebel is the fifth novel in the Fourlands Series by Steph Swainston.
[Here are my reviews of the others.]
Finished on: 18.4.2017

Plot:
15 years have passed since the Emperor San and the Vermiform clashed. By now the Fourlands have discovered gunpowder and are ready for a last big strike against the insects. But before they can actually carry it out, it turns out that the gunpowder has been tampered with and has been liberally mixed with sand. This discovery sends Jant, the Emperor’s messenger, on a chase to find the culprit and the missing gunpowder – before things are blown up that aren’t insects.

Fair Rebel finally returns to the Fourlands (although it wasn’t that long of a wait for me because I was a little later in discovering the series, but the last one before this one was a prequel, so anyway) and it does so with a bang – quite literally. As usual, I very much loved reading about this world and was excited about the new twist and turns the story makes.

The Fourlands have always been an interesting mix of modern aesthetics and old-time politics, but in Fair Rebel it’s the other way around: we get an absolutely modern political terrorist take in a world that only just discovered gunpowder. And Swainston takes care to not reduce the terrorists to simple villains, but gives them complex motivations and a couple of really good points. Even as you don’t agree with their methods, you can’t help but agree with some of their arguments at least.

The book is written in Swainston’s usual crisp but dense language that doesn’t make her novels the quickest reads, but the work you have to put into the reading does pay off and rewards you with sharp observations and smart insights. Unfortunately that means that it stands even more out like a sore thumb that she liberally uses the slur “gypsy” to describe one of the ethnic groups in the novel. For somebody who has such a good handle on the language, this is an even more egregious offense, and it is compounded by the fact that it is a fantasy world where it doesn’t really make sense to use an “ethnic term” from the real world in the first place.

But other than that, I have no issues with the novel. I loved Saker’s and with it Jant’s changed roles as Saker’s displacement from the Circle seems to have triggered a second kind of puberty in him that pushed Jant, in turn, to be the adult for once. That’s how you pull off character development. (Poor Cyan, though, she really gets the worst part in everything.)

The story is only partly concluded at the end of the book, so we should still get more entries in the series. And that’s definitely a good thing if you ask me.

Summarizing: Fair Rebel delivers on the promise of the earlier books.

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