Chaos Trims my Beard by Brett Herman

Rating 6.2/10
Pays respectful homage to both the fantasy and noir genres while creating something fresh and interesting

Brett Herman’s “Chaos Trims My Beard” is one of the ten finalists in the 2017 Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off contest. To view the status of all finalists, please visit this site.

The mashing up of two genres can be a high-risk, high-reward endeavor. Chocolate and peanut butter, pretzels and peanut butter, peanut butter and jelly: all successful and timeless pairings, yet the merging of two or more written genres can be a bit more challenging. Brett Herman’s “Chaos Trims My Beard” attempts to blend hard-boiled noir in an urban fantasy setting. Does it work? Yes and no.

Outside of fantasy, hard-boiled mystery is my favorite fictional genre, as well as my most read. Influential legends such as Raymond Chandler, Jim Thompson, and Elmore Leonard are masters of complex plotting, sharp dialogue, and high tension. Therefore, I was very much looking forward to reading a high fantasy story revolving around a half-dwarf and a rat-man who try to unravel a murderous conspiracy in their city. Police officers who are using too much magic are becoming ‘overrun’ and ending up dead, and our hero Edwayn wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time’s himself into being a prime suspect. Edwayn, who sports a huge braided beard that he’s had since birth, is not gifted in wielding magic like his human and elven peers. Instead, he carries a hidden pouch under his chin that holds a few magical and reusable charms. He’s soon approached by a dual-gun wielding, feathered-hat wearing rat-man named Venrick who works for the police department’s internal affairs division. Their journey to discovery takes them through a multitude of oddities, including a fatalistic air elemental, a boar-shaped ornithopter, trigger-happy arsonists, and shady corporate politics. 

If you think it sounds convoluted, you’re right. What also doesn’t help the story is that the first-person POV that we spend inside Edwayn’s mind is sometimes choppy and meandering. The full motivations of the supporting characters aren’t abundantly clear, even as the novel escalates into its final act. The resolution ties many of the plot threads together, but I was left questioning several plot holes. I came away feeling like another round of editing to tighten up the story and lose some of the extraneous oddities could be beneficial to the story.

On the flip side, I think Herman handled the tone very well. About a third of the way through the novel, I imagined Edwayn’s narration using the voice of Humphrey Bogart, and it greatly improved my reading experience. The clipped nature of Edwayn’s delivery of the story’s events seemed to fit much better when emulating the vocal stylings and personality of a Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. The dry humor started to shine through a bit more, and the few puns that landed, landed big. Herman also did an admirable job of incorporating some of the more infamous tropes of these types of books or films: the hard-drinking, working-class loner for a hero; untrustworthy cops; a femme fatale with her own agenda; plenty of fistfights and goons knocking each other unconscious; a plot so thick with double-crossings that it easy to forget what side they started on.

All in all, this was a mostly enjoyable read, other than a few standout passages that could benefit from another editing pass. I commend the author’s attempt to pay respectful homage to both the fantasy and noir genres while creating something fresh and interesting. This is a book that targets a niche audience, and if you fall into that category, you owe it yourself to give it a shot.   

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