The Shattered Realm of Ardor Benn by Tyler Whitesides

November 6, 2020

Please note, The Shattered Realm of Ardor Benn is a direct sequel to The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn. If you haven’t read the first book in the Kingdom of Grit series what follows may contain some minor spoilers. Dont say I didn’t warn you.

Ardor Benn saved civilisation from imminent destruction, but his efforts brought war to the kingdom. It is believed that the rightful rulers have all been assassinated. However, a young heir might have survived.

An ancient organisation known as The Realm is behind the chaos, working from the shadows. Under the anonymity of masks, information is distributed sparingly. Ard’s been hired to infiltrate them, but he’s got competition from an old friend. One who’s set to prove she’s better than the self-proclaimed ‘Ruse Artist Extraordinaire.’

If Ard can’t find the heir, then his world may again approach ruin. Stopping the complete and utter collapse of civilisation is quickly becoming Ard’s speciality.

The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn was one of my favourite debut novels over the last few years. It features a rascally conman with a flair for the dramatic, a dash of political and religious intrigue and an angry dragon to boot. It’s all good fun and well worth checking out. This month, Ardor Benn returns for a new adventure and once again he is up to his neck in no end of mayhem.

The problem is that our, often accidental, hero is driven by his ego. Ard is a charismatic rogue and he loves being the centre of attention. I can respect that, there is no point being the world’s best ruse artist if people don’t know you are. That need for recognition Ard craves sometimes means he exhibits a wanton disregard for safety just to get the job done. I’ve been thinking about this and I’m not sure that Ard is always the cleverest person in the room, even if he thinks he is. It’s more likely he is the most confident person in the room. There are undoubtedly copious amounts of planning when it comes to his various ruses, but he is nothing if not adaptable. Ard is a creature of instinct. When he catches onto the merest glimmer of a thread of a suggestion that might become close to being a workable idea he develops a laser like focus and runs with it. However convoluted Ard’s plans might be, he can still change tack at a moment’s notice. Lest we forget there is also his winning personality and bucket loads of charm to also consider. If all else fails, Ard will happily talk the talk until he is able to walk the walk

Ard’s long-suffering best friend Raekon Dorrel continues to try an act as a moral compass for our hero’s more outlandish notions. The relationship between Ard and Raekon is a real highlight. I love the small details that define the constant back and forth in the dialogue they share. Ard and Raekon have that confident, almost unintelligible, shorthand like Danny Ocean and Rusty Ryan in the George Clooney flavoured remake of Ocean’s Eleven. In Shattered Realm, we delve a little deeper into the dynamic between Ard and Raekon and begin to see how their relationship is evolving into something different.

Tyler Whitesides peppers the narrative with some nice, subtle comedic moments. Ard begins the book bemoaning the importance of decent sized trousers when it comes to completing a ruse. Later there is an ongoing conversation regarding using pastries as a yardstick of success. There is nothing overt, events never descend into farce, and I like this approach. It would be so easy to make every plan more outlandish than the last but there is a good balance between the inherent humour in any confidence trick and the serious business of actually trying to pull it off.

The ruses Ard and Raekon employ remain as deliciously complicated as ever. At one point, I think there is a ruse within a ruse within a ruse. We’ve reached the Inception of ruses here, people. The good news is the author handles all these spinning plates with a confident self-assurance. I never felt we lost sight of the main plot at any point. Well played, Whitesides, well played.

I imagine just hanging out with Ardor Benn would be an interesting experience. I’m sure there would be moments when he would be your best friend, and others where you would quite happily throttle him. It would certainly never be boring. Reading this latest book has reignited my passion for a good con movie. I’ve re-watched Now You See Me and Now You See Me 2 already this week. I would be lying if I didn’t admit I see comparisons between Ard and Mark Ruffalo’s character, Dylan Rhodes.

Sometimes a book arrives in your life at exactly the right time. The Shattered Realm of Ardor Benn by Tyler Whitesides did just that. What with ongoing global pandemics and various political implosions, I recently hit a bit a low ebb mental health wise. A good book can do wonders for your mental health and after losing myself in this novel I have to admit I do feel significantly better. Turns out there is nothing better than a rip-roaring yarn chock full of wild schemes, breakneck action and narrow escapes to make this reviewer feel more like his old self.

The Shattered Realm of Ardor Benn is published by Orbit and is available now. The Last Lies of Ardor Benn is set to follow. Highly recommended

In a weird turn of events yesterday, the venerable Internet sage @LegalValkyrie mentioned my musical recommendation to accompany this novel during a random conversation. She has a playlist called The Con is On and it features tracks from the soundtrack to Ocean’s Eight by Daniel Pemberton*. Who am I to disagree with such a knowledgeable soul? Within about thirty seconds of listening, you’ll get why this is a wholly appropriate choice to pair with this novel. It has a suitably con-men/heist vibe about it all.

*Turns out my previous musical recommendation for book one in the series was another Daniel Pemberton soundtrack. It would appear Tyler Whitesides writing lends itself well to Daniel Pemberton’s music and vice versa.

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