Ocean’s 11, with wizards: The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes.
I love a good heist.
From a narrative perspective, a heist can make a story (at least the beginning of it) wonderfully simple. It’s a perfect excuse to gather a set of interesting, professional characters, and then give them all a single common goal. Usually, it’s “to get rich.” In a well written heist story, the audience gets to either marvel at the cleverness of the characters … or gleefully watch as things go to hell and everyone’s left to scramble all over the place. It’s one of the reasons Leverage has become one of my favorite TV shows, despite only having discovered it via Netflix about a year ago.
For the record, Patrick Weekes should by no means be mixed up with Brent Weeks. While both of them may write fantasy, I’ve found Patrick Weekes to be the far better author. “Leverage with wizards” is a lot more interesting than “another assassin in a hooded cloak with a tragic backstory stabbing people.” I kind of wish I had this blog going when I read Brent Weeks’ first book a couple years ago, as I would’ve had a blast tearing into it. But I digress.
I heard about The Palace Job in passing awhile back, but I’d never been able to find a copy in a bookstore- this is because it’s part of Amazon’s 47 North program- basically their in-house publishing division. Thankfully, they do have print options available, so I went ahead and ordered The Palace Job with a gift card I got for Christmas. Now that I’ve read the book, I’m glad I did.
Weekes isn’t the first author to do the “fantasy heist” thing, and I sincerely doubt he’ll be the last. However, what distinguishes The Palace Job from stuff like Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard books is a matter of tone. Lynch’s books focus on the grittier aspect, where The Palace Job has a lighter tone, and says “fuck” a whole lot less.
The Palace Job pretty much ticks off all the boxes under ‘heist’ on Tvtropes. You’ve got The Mastermind and The Sidekick, and they have to Get A Crew Together in order to hit The Biggest Score. Oh, and there’s a Good Cop on their tail, who The Mastermind naturally has a flirty, cat & mouse relationship with. Of course, everything is filtered through a fantasy lens, so in addition to The Safecracker, The Acrobat, and The Rookie, you’ve also got a wizard, a unicorn, a surprisingly cheery death priestess, and a sentient talking warhammer. Instead of a bank vault, the thieves have to break into a palace in a floating city. Instead of stealing a key, they’ve got to steal a magic crystal, and so on.
To be honest, it took me a couple of chapters before The Palace Job‘s tone really ‘clicked’ with me. Weekes’ world is at a far higher magic level than I was expecting. People casually use magic wands and flying charms and such. And, y’know, there’s the whole ‘flying city’ thing. The casual way magic is treated in The Palace Job reminded me of a Final Fantasy game rather than, say, Tolkien. Which makes sense, considering Weekes has done a lot of writing for Bioware. He worked on Dragon Age: Inquisition, as well as the Rannoch and Tuchanka segments of Mass Effect 3. (Y’know, the good parts).
However, once I did figure out the general tone, the book was a blast. It’s a fun, rollicking adventure full of betrayals, reversals, cliffhangers, and snappy dialogue. The heroes are fun to root for, and the villains are appropriately moustache-twirlingly evil. Weekes juggles a lot of characters- nine members of The Gang, plus the Good Cop and a couple more antagonists besides. As you would expect, some characters get a lot more development than others. Still, it’s a tribute to Weekes’ skill as a writer that he can make a magic warhammer that can only speak a handful of ancient-language phrases into a compelling character.
Another thing that really surprised me about The Palace Job was its treatment of race and racism. A lot of fantasy novels either ignore the matter entirely, while others make things into a ham handed allegory. “Elves facing racism” or whatever may be one way to address an issue, but it runs the danger of coming off tone deaf. Weekes takes a far more direct approach, in that Loch and Kail (The Mastermind and The Sidekick respectively) are black. Technically, they’re “Urujar,” which is the name for the dark-skinned people in the setting, but terms of “black” and “white” are bandied about just as much. Blackness isn’t Loch’s defining aspect (as she’s tough, clever, and downright brutal when she needs to be), but facing prejudice is just another challenge she’s forced to deal with.
All and all, The Palace Job was a book that I kept finding excuses to go back to, to read just one more chapter. While the plot got a little over-busy and muddled towards the end of the book, it was still a great read. There’s at least two more sequels to The Palace Job, which I’ll look forward to tracking down and reading at some point. I heartily recommend this book to pretty much any fantasy fan who may be in the mood for something different. Unfortunately, you probably won’t be able to find a hard copy very easily, but it’s definitely worth getting directly from Amazon, in either e-book or dead tree format.
Seriously guys, someone else read this so I have more fans to goob over it with.