Monday, May 11, 2009

Review: Act of Will

A.J. Hartley’s novel Act of Will is a nice change of pace for me. I’ve been predominantly reading a host of dark and gritty fantasy novels over the last couple months so it was nice to sink my teeth into some lighter fare. You won’t find swearing or sex in this novel; you will however get a healthy dose of violence along with a smooth talking rogue who can best anyone in a battle of wits.

Act of Will focuses its attention on William Hawthorne a young actor turned fugitive from the Empire who’s now taking center stage in an adventure all his own. As he flees from the Empire’s soldiers he runs smack dab into a group of adventurers. Despite the fact that these adventurers have safely smuggled him from the Empire’s grasp Will still is weary of associating with them. He sees them as little more than mercenary cutthroats. It’s with reservation he decides to continue on with them as they set forth to take up a difficult commission in far off lands.

Brief summary out of the way the thing I liked most about this book is that it was a nice tight read. There are no wasted words or chapters. Each chapter propels the story forward allowing me to move along at a good pace enjoying myself the entire time.

Next I have to mention the extraordinary character that is Will Hawthorne. The man can talk there’s no doubt about it. His silver tongue is both a blessing and a curse however as his tongue gets him into just as much trouble as it gets him out of. While that’s not good for him its good for us the readers as each time Will opens his mouth you can’t help but be entertained. The lies he spins are clever and its clear that Will likes to lie just for the pure joy of it. It’s an art for him and he’s one of the finest bullshit artists I’ve ever seen.

Will seems to revel in his wretchedness much like another young rogue the world has fallen in love with; Huckleberry Finn. Both characters appear to be little more than charlatans and are more than happy to be seen as such. Beneath each character’s façade however lies a good man. (whether either of them want you to believe that or not.) This is evidenced in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with Huck’s relationship with Jim. Mirroring that relationship is the one Will develops with Orgos a black man who is death incarnate with a blade.

Throughout the story it’s this relationship between Will and Orgos that gives the story legs. It’s a friendship that develops naturally between the two and it’s a treat to watch it unfold. It feels wholly organic which is a testament to Hartley’s ability. Throughout the story the two teach each other a lot about life and what it means to be an honorable man. It’s this foundation Orgos lays through his actions rather than his words that begins to, if not necessarily change Will, gives him a new perspective.

While the character development with Orgos is well done I felt that the other supporting characters could have used a little more fleshing out. We are given a few good scenes with Mithos and Garnet that let us gain a little more insight into what makes them tick but not enough for my tastes. Renthrette and Will’s flirtation is entertaining throughout but again Renthrette feels a bit hollow and I don’t feel like I know much about her when the story ends. The worst though was the leader of the group Lisha who I felt was almost nonexistent as a character.

The second qualm I had with the novel was that there wasn’t a sense of real consequences. Even when characters were in grave jeopardy there never a sense of foreboding as I felt that the characters would always make it through a little worse for wear. It’s this lack of danger that made it less enjoyable for me.

Those criticisms aside the positives far outweigh the negatives of this novel. This novel is just a joy to read and I could see it bringing a lot of people into the genre as it’s well done and accessible in a way that many fantasy novels just aren’t.



  1. Great review! I'm glad you enjoyed it. While not flawless, I really enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to the sequel...

  2. This is on the stack to read, I may bump it up after reading this :)

  3. @Pliny: Thanks for the kind words I'm going to have to keep the sequel on my radar as well.

    @Mark: Glad I was able to move this up on your stack to read, as its a great book. I hope you enjoy it.