The FaceFaker’s Game by Chandler J. Birch. ★★★★
As soon as I heard the words “fantasy heist,” I knew I wanted to read The Facefaker’s Game.
Ashes is an orphan scrapping a living in Burroughside, the poorest and most crime ridden area of the giant Victorian-esque city of Teranis. Then by coincidence he comes to the attention of Candlestick Jack: a master thief and Artificer, a magician who manipulates light to craft illusions. He offers Ashes a chance to be his student, but he wants his help with a grand scheme.
World building is one of the elements that keeps drawing me back to fantasy books. I love imaginative, mysterious, spectacular worlds. Teranis was a fairly familiar type – a large city reminiscent of London during the Victorian era – but it was well described. There’s clearly more going on than has currently been revealed. For instance, who are the “rasa,” the amnesiac children who’s sudden appearances are accepted and not questioned? What is up with that? I desperately want to know more. What about those creepy monsters that only come out at night? Where do they come from? There’s also mentions of witches, although we’ve gotten tantalizingly few glimpses of what their abilities are. I also enjoyed the magic based on illusion, even though I could never grasp the difference between Stitching and Weaving (yes, I know it was explained multiple times!). I feel like there’s still plenty to be uncovered there as well.
Teranis has a strict class system, which Ashes is at the bottom of. Chandler expertly conveys the dark, gloom and grit of Burroughside, although I don’t think I would go so far as to call the novel grimdark. For some reason, it does slightly remind me of Mistborn, but not in a bad way. The writing overall is pretty impressive for a debut novel. Reading it I would never have guessed it was a debut.
Although the city itself has plenty of oddities, I don’t feel like The Facefaker’s Game was offering anything particularly new. For instance, Ashes was clearly a character in the Artful Dodger mold, but that didn’t make him any less fun to read about. So while it may not be breathtakingly original, it is well executed and still fun. It doesn’t hurt that the book fits fairly well into the Venn diagram of Things Sarah Likes to Read About. Intriguingly magical world? Check! Heist elements? Check! Lovable rogue? Check! It was actually a little less heist focused than I had anticipated, but it still helped meet my love for that story type. Oh, it was also decent on female characters. It’s not a book I would recommend specifically for that, but I never felt aggravated by their treatment or anything.
At times The Facefaker’s Game felt like more questions than answers. If this was intended to make me read the sequel, it worked! I am 100% certain that I will be reading the next book whenever it is released. I would recommend The Facefaker’s Game to anyone looking for a fantasy book with a roguish protagonist.