Die verdammte Karte: Dawid vs. Goliath (J.S. Hartmann)

Die verdammte Karte: Dawid vs. Goliath [literally: The Damned Card: Dawid vs. Goliath] is the first novel in the Die verdammte Karte trilogy by J.S. Hartmann. [As far as I know, there is no English translation yet.]
Finished on: 6.9.2021
[I received a copy of this book to review, or, as they say in German, this post is Unbezahlte Werbung.]

Dawid is kind of famous in Russia – as a freeclimber, he has a very popular youtube channel where he climbs stuff, the higher the better, legality is optional. During his most recent endeavor, he falls, though – and wakes up in Germany instead of Russia, his legs buried in the asphalt of a busy road. Not surprisingly, this circumstance draws attention. On the one hand, there are Nora and Salim who work with Popov and who seem pretty worried about Dawid, but also don’t tell him much. On the other hand, there is the psychologist Dr. Manthey who Nora, Salim and Popov insist has sinister motives. Really, Dawid doesn’t want to know about magic or special abilities, he just wants to go home. But it doesn’t appear that he has this option anymore.

Die verdammte Karte: Dawid vs. Goliath is a good read with likeable characters in an interesting world. I enjoyed it – and I’m looking forward to the next installment that is due to be released soon.

The book cover is drawn like a playing card with white lines on black background. We can see the King of Diamonds, holding a card that shows himself in one hand and a pocket watch in the other. He is wearing a top hat and a monocle and mirrored at the waist.
(c) Chaos Pony Verlag

Die verdammte Karte is off to a strong start with a harrowing glimpse at Dawid’s past and then his climbing of the chimney that is the start of the story proper. I think those are also the strongest moments of the entire book, both scenes leaving you on tenterhooks in their tension. After this excellent beginning, I didn’t feel like the rest of the book was quite as good anymore, but it was still a really good read.

What I definitely applaud is the fact that this novel is set in Germany for the most part. Too often, German-speaking writers seem to take their fiction to (countries inspired by) the UK or the USA, or – if it’s supposed to be “more exotic” – to the Middle East. This leaves the local fantastic underexplored, so I’m always on the look-out for books that take a more local approach, as this one does.

The writing style is smooth enough, though there were some rockier parts. Still, it flows, as does the story. The pacing was on the fast side a couple of times (shortening, for example, the training period to a couple of pages that one could have spent a little more time with). The flipside of this is that the book is pretty short – in the time of major epics, this was a nice change for me.

I liked the characters, though Hartmann spends maybe a tad too much explaining Dawid and his reactions. Especially since those reactions are very understandable given the predicament he finds himself in. The balance between explaining and alluding is better with Nora and Salim, two characters I also really liked. I’m still undecided about Popov and Manthey – they seem a little formulaic for now, but there is room for a bit more about them in the sequel and I hope we get it.

I also hope that the world and its rules is explored a little more in the sequel. There are magical politics that are hinted at in this one, and I am not sure that I really understand them for now. That confusion mirrors Dawid’s, so it’s perfectly alright with me and probably intended, but it would be good if we got a better sense of the world at large in the sequel(s).

In short, this may not be a great novel, but it is a very engaging one. Definitely engaging enough that I’m curious about and looking forward to the sequel.

Summarizing: very enjoyable.

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