I return again to TBRindr, this time with Under Ordshaw. With a cardsharp as a main character in some kind of intriguing fantasy city, its blurb was definitely ticking a lot of boxes for me. And I’ve had some pretty good books come out of TBRindr, so I was liking my odds.
For Pax Kuranes, her night could have gone better. After winning a sizeable sum of cash from an underground poker game, she has it all stolen after a strange Roma boy approaches her at a bar. When she tries to get her money back from him, she finds a coded book of horrors and a strange intricate device that makes her of great interest to several incredibly dangerous parties. Where she was once struggling to make her rent, she’s now struggling to stay alive.
So my Under Ordshaw review took a little longer to get to than I had originally thought it would. Christmas and New Year were busier than I had expected and I didn’t get around to reading as much as I ordinarily would. As such, while a long reading time can sometimes indicate that I’m not getting on with a book, I can say with certainty that this is not the case in this instance. While I do have a couple of issues with Under Ordshaw, I did thoroughly enjoy myself.
There are two areas that I want to talk about, the first of which will be worldbuilding. There’s a lot that I like about it, mostly the stuff to do with the Sunken City and the Fae. There’s not a huge deal that’s been revealed in great detail, but the horrifying descriptions and the main cast’s lack of power in comparison makes it feel really eerie and threatening. Additionally, I liked that one of the agencies involved, the Ministry of Environmental Energy, actually feels like a typical UK civil/public service where every attempt to make changes is blocked by red tape and a cutthroat working culture. Having worked in an environment like that, I can well sympathise with Casaria’s impotent rage at his superiors. The only thing that bugged me, and this is a very minor point, is that there seem to be a lot of weird names for seemingly regular people in modern Britain. Pax, Rufaizu and Apothel are all names of human characters in Under Ordshaw, while Letty is a Fae. If anything, I’d have gone the other way around. Like I said, not a huge point, but it bugged me every time I saw them, especially Rufaizu.
Second, I’ll talk characters. I find myself in two minds about the characters. On the one hand, the majority of the characters are really well-written and interesting. My particular favourites are Letty, a Fae who makes up for her tiny size with enough rage for a bear fresh out of hibernation and enough firepower to back up her angry threats, and Casaria, a cowboy Ministry agent with delusions of grandeur who is convinced that he and Pax are the only ones who understand the darkness enough to police it. The only one that I can’t really get my head around is Pax, which is a bit of an issue. The thing that I don’t get is why she gets involved. Her POV sections state multiple times that she does what she needs to to survive, and that she doesn’t go and get herself involved in other people’s troubles. But then she keeps going and doing the exact thing that she supposedly never does, often out of concern for people that she doesn’t know. She asks after Rufaizu and charges herself with his safety, having spoken to him for maybe a couple of minutes. She saves Letty because she’s small and cute, and Pax would feel bad at her dying. She gets involved in someone else’s daughter’s safety because she’s a civilian who stumbled into this whole mess by accident. If she was really such a hardass with no interest in getting involved in other people’s problems, then she would have taken her money at the first chance and skipped town. Like I get needing to get her involved in the plot, but the characterisation doesn’t quite sit right with me.
A thoroughly enjoyable fantasy book, Under Ordshaw provides a great introduction to what looks to be a really interesting world. The characterisation of the main character Pax could do with a bit of reworking, but otherwise the cast is engaging and well-written. The main star of the show though has to be the glimpses that the reader gets of the Sunken City, a series of tunnels beneath the city filled with beasts straight out of Lovecraft’s nightmares. 4/5
Next review: The Wings of the Dove by Henry James