Wonderful world building and unique characters
I’ve followed Travis Riddle’s career as an author since I discovered his second book, Balam, Spring. In that one, his skill at character stories was clearly on display, and that has continued through each of his other novels. In his latest, Flesh Eater, Riddle expands from standalone works to a series, and the added length gives him more opportunity to explore the depths of his characters and his world. If you enjoy weird fantasy, this is one you won’t want to miss.
Riddle does world building so well it’s hard to know how to describe it other than to say it is masterful. The worlds we find in Riddle’s novels are deep and living and vibrant. Flesh Eater is no exception. The world feels like it’s living, like it has a history to it. The characters - even those who are essentially walk-ons - feel like they have lives and unique stories all their own. But more than this, the world of Flesh Eater is so unique. Set in a forested valley between impassable mountains, we get a sense of a modern-ish world where the people are anthropomorphic animals. Where Riddle’s skill truly shines is in the thousand small ways he reminds us of this fact, from characters who eat differently, to the sort of foods they eat, to having better night vision, to their sense of smell or taste. The wonder doesn’t end at the world building, however. Riddle has always had a knack for deep, authentic characters, and Flesh Eater lives up to what I’ve come to expect from him in that regard. One thing I love about Coal, the main character, is that he feels like a normal person. He is good at some things, and terrible at others. He isn’t a perfect fighter, trained killer, or witty scholar. He’s the guy next door. Or maybe the guy who moved in next door but is slightly shady and probably isn’t going to be your neighbor for long because, ya know, he’s not that great at paying the rent on time. In any case, Coal feels real, and so do the side characters we meet throughout the novel. A new element that Riddle gives us in this story is romance. Flesh Eater is hardly a romance, and it doesn’t follow romance tropes, but it does give us some tender moments and it’s done in a way that helps flesh out the main character in wonderful ways. Riddle keeps giving us new things to enjoy in his writing.
No novel is perfect, of course, and Flesh Eater does have one or two aspects that I wasn’t as thrilled with. The pacing is much quicker than any of Riddle’s other works, and I think that plays well with the style of story this is. But it also means that there are chapters where one goes from talking to action very quickly. Riddle handles these transitions smoothly overall, but once or twice it did feel just a little jarring. There were also a couple points where I felt like I might have lost the flow of a chapter as I sort of got lost in Coal’s thoughts. Tightening those few moments up just a bit would have taken this novel up to just that next level. But then, Riddle’s style of writing overall lends itself to enjoying and getting lost in the characters so much that it’s hard to call this an actual criticism.
The best way I can describe it is to say that his style doesn’t hurry. It isn’t flowery or poetic, but it never feels like the story is rushing, either. It is difficult to describe, and that is not a criticism at all. It is just another unique aspect of Riddle’s writing that deserves notice.
Flesh Eater begins the Houndstooth trilogy with wonderful world building and unique characters. I can’t wait to see what the next novels in the series bring, and given the ending, I hope we don’t have long to wait! Pick this one up if you love strong characters coupled with deep world building and unique fantasy races.
Review by Calvin Park
8.5/10 from 1 reviews
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