Today’s team book review is from Barb, she blogs at http://barbtaub.com/
Barb chose to read and review The Viper and The Urchin by Celine Jeanjean
My Review: 5 stars out of 5
I was thinking of the three sliding variants of character development—competence, proactivity, and sympathy—as I read The Viper and the Urchin, author Celine Jeanjean’s debut novel. Based on the blurb, I agreed to do a review, but I was nervous. Her novel had a terrific premise—a master assassin who can’t handle the sight of blood—and was in the steampunk/fantasy genre I love. I needn’t have worried.
From my email:
I just had to tell you… I have a TON of other books ahead of The Viper and the Urchin in my TBR queue. But I stayed up last night to read it anyway because I read the opening pages and I was hooked. What an incredibly fun read!
So where did Celine set the Sympathy/Competence/Proactivity sliders for her two main characters?
- Longinus: “Damsport’s most elegant assassin”, seems to be a shallow dandy, obsessed with appearances and fame. Even as he’s stalking his next victim, he’s communing with an invisible muse, composing the elegant sentences that will convey the image he so desperately wants the world to see. At first, he seems supremely competent and fairly proactive when it comes to his career of professional assassin. Our sympathy levels are darn low here. Only… there’s a showstopper hole in the middle of all his expertise and planning. He can’t take the sight, or even the thought, of blood. At the same time, the saving graces of humor and wit are more engaging with each page, while his slowly revealed backstory sends our sympathy levels soaring.
- Rory: a scrawny, smelly urchin, she’s a “master of the game of survival”, and she has a plan. Okay, “blackmail the highly-trained killer” might not be the best plan, but Rory is willing to put in the effort it will take to pull it off. On the face of things, you’d think her sympathy level would be high too—she’s an orphan who lives on the streets. Except…she’s just so competent at being an urchin, that it’s hard to work up a lot of sympathy for her fate. She’s highly-proactive in her quest to achieve the goal she set for herself of becoming a master swords-woman like the Scarred Woman she met when she was a little girl. But like Longinus, there’s a hole at the center of all that. The competence she seeks is threatened by her sympathy for a fellow underdog. “Nothing good ever came out of meddling in other people’s business, but she hated seeing an underdog get beaten up.”
What you soon realize is that these two characters who seem different in almost every possible way— from education and birth to status and wealth—are actually very similar. And when they combine their talents, all their character sliders go up as they fill in each other’s gaps.
I can’t tell you how much fun it was to see the seemingly-disparate Longinus and Rory forced by circumstances and then a reluctantly-acknowledged but sincere affection into combining into a formidable force. And when they have to use their coalition against the single most formative figure in either of their pasts, it’s perfectly magical. When you combine that with the brilliant world-building and especially with the rapid-fire snarky humor and pace, you have an absolutely remarkable first novel. The side characters (especially the intriguing Rafe, who complacently suggests, “I could be your sidekick, you know. Or your love interest. There’s always a sidekick and a love interest in stories.”) are each swiftly but perfectly drawn.
Author Celine Jeanjean has a firm but dead-on touch with the story arc. She finishes off the existing villains, and explains the mysteries. But all those character-driven clues to the bigger backstory leave readers hungry for more adventure, and especially more time with these completely intriguing characters. Of course, I’d give The Viper and the Urchin five out of five stars. In fact, my only complaint is that we have to wait so long for the sequel.