The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn by Tyler Whitesides

May 17, 2018

“I’m hiring you to steal the king’s crown.”

Ardor Benn is no ordinary thief. Rakish, ambitious, and master of wildly complex heists, he styles himself a Ruse Artist Extraordinaire.

When a priest hires him for the most daring ruse yet, Ardor knows he’ll need more than quick wit and sleight of hand. Assembling a dream team of forgers, disguisers, schemers, and thieves, he sets out to steal from the most powerful king the realm has ever known.

But it soon becomes clear there’s more at stake than fame and glory – Ard and his team might just be the last hope for human civilization.

I could attempt to explain the plot to The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn, but I fear I would do it some sort of injustice. Like all the best scams there is a lot going on here. My advice, strap yourself in and just go for it. This is a novel that is all about the ride. I can promise you one thing, there will be much to enjoy. This is a novel that defies anything close to categorisation. 

Ardor Benn is all cocksure swagger. As quick of mind as he is of wit, he loves the life of a ruse artist. He might tell you it is all about the money but it’s not. There is more to it than that. It’s the frisson of excitement that occurs whenever part of his latest exquisitely mapped out plan is successful. A platinum rogue and no mistake, I defy anyone to not be won over by Ard’s charms. You would be wrong however to dismiss Ard as just a con man. There is more to him than first appears. There is a level of introspection to his character I really enjoyed. Ghosts of past events still haunt his actions. For all his outward bravado he is troubled by the bigger questions in life.

I’ll be honest, I’m a sucker for a good heist. The best shakedowns bring together a crew of oddball characters that would fail in any other venture but somehow work when it comes to grand larceny. That rule holds true here, there are a whole host of eccentric individuals.  Ard is all wild plans and grandiose spectacle, he is a big picture kind of guy, so needs someone who can help him with the finer detail. Raekon ‘Short Fuse’ Dorrel is that man. Friends for years, you quickly pick up on the easy camaraderie that exists between the two. I think Raek can best be described as long suffering. It strikes me that keeping up with Ardor Benn is a full-time job.

The newest member of the gang is Quarrah Khai. Used to working alone as a sneak thief she finds being part of a group a bit of a novelty, especially when that group is more like a surrogate family.  Quarrah finds herself perplexed, infuriated and often confused by Ardor Benn but she has little choice in her new role. She will be part of Ard’s latest outlandish escapade whether she wants to be or not.

My favourite characters were Elbrig and Cinza, the disguise managers. Always a dozen or more steps ahead of everyone else, this eccentric partnership lives for the elaborate. The more complex a scheme the better. Let’s just say it’s amazing the lengths that some people will go to for their craft.

The author has a real ear for dialogue. The constant bickering back and forth between all the characters is a joy, it helps to make them all seem that much more real. Ard and Raek have a wonderful shorthand they use whenever they talk to one another. Check out George Clooney and Brad Pitt in Ocean’s Eleven, and you’ll get the idea.

The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn is exactly what I had hoped it would be. Tyler Whitesides’ adult fiction debut is the literary equivalent of “Find The Lady”; there is misdirection and shenanigans aplenty. This would be entertaining enough but Whitesides elevates the story to another level by incorporating some loftier elements. There is a larger conspiracy that develops as the plot unfolds.  A scheme is afoot that has the potential to claim millions of lives. The only thing between the world and utter chaos is Ard and his ragtag group of associates.

Oh, before I forget to mention it, there are also a host of dragons. In fact, the dragons are an essential element to our tale. I’ll say no more for fear of spoilers, suffice to say that plans have a way of going south when you need to rely on a gargantuan monster to literally deliver the goods.

Whitesides has also created an intriguing semi-scientific magic system for his world. There are compounds and powders, collectively known as ‘grit’, that can be used to achieve all manner of different effects. Part alchemy, part maths and part pure dumb luck Ard and Raek use grit in a whole host of inventive ways to help pull off various heists. Those of you who are a fan of impressively large detonations are going to have a blast (I am so sorry, I couldn’t resist).

You can probably tell that I had a great time reading this novel. The characters are loads of fun and the plot is so twisty and turny that if it were a baked good it would be a pretzel. If you enjoy The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch and/or have appreciated the television shows Leverage (US) and Hustle (UK) then I can confidently predict that The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn is the book for you.

My musical recommendation is the soundtrack to King Arthur: Legend of the Sword by Daniel Pemberton. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the Guy Ritchie movie was a bit of a cinematic lemon, but the soundtrack is brilliant. It perfectly fits Tyler Whitesides novel. Trust me, listen to one whilst reading the other and you’ll get what I mean. The life of a ruse artist is a frenetic rollercoaster of events. What with the addition of fantastical elements, dragons especially, I think this soundtrack captures that tone.

The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn is published by Orbit and is available now. Highly recommended.

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