Spit and Song by Travis Riddle

(8.2/10)

Travis M. Riddle has once again given us a unique and imaginative tale. As one might expect, given Riddle’s earlier works, Spit and Song is an intensely personal story. It follows Kali, an aspiring merchant, and Puk, a down and out musician addicted to the titular spit. Set in the same world as Balam, Spring it recaptures much of that novel’s wonder and intricate worldbuilding while being entirely fresh and standalone.

One of the first things that helps Spit and Song distinguish itself is the character voice. Both Kali and Puk receive viewpoints, and Riddle has given them both distinctive voices. This aids in the use of the two characters as foils for one another. The interaction between them, both in terms of the story and in terms of the technical aspects of crafting the story, creates tension and allows for multiple perspectives on the same sorts of issues. This novel shines in its personal feel. It’s a story about fears, joys, accomplishments, and growth. It excels at making you feel for the characters on the page, aching for their pain and understanding whence it comes. There is a whimsical, fantastical nature to the world as well, but also a seriousness or realness to the characters. Kali’s struggle to be something, to make something of herself is incredibly relatable. Puk is almost the opposite, caring little for who he is and finding solace for his pain in fire-spit, his drug of choice. Their struggles are real and honest and play off of one another. Part of the reason this all works so well is because it’s set against the backdrop of a unique fantasy world. Riddle doesn’t waste time with tired tropes, castles and knights. Rather, he gives us a world populated with wonderful and unique races. From the bug like centripts to cities built in the skeleton of a miles-long dragon to airships and ayote (reptilian mounts suited to desert travel), the novel is vast, deep, and engagingly unique. The worldbuilding is what you might expect to find in an epic fantasy tome, but here it is used to tell a far more intimate story. This engaging yarn is wonderfully relatable while the character development is wrapped in a series of mishaps and errors that make you both laugh and ache for the two main characters.

There are some elements that won’t appeal to everyone. The first is that the novel gets off to a very slow start. Those who aren’t fans of slow setups may find the first half of the novel trying. Riddle is setting up the characters and story here, but it does move slowly in the first half, as character stories often do. The payoff is tremendously fleshed out characters, but those looking for a blockbuster movie-like first half won’t find it. A more objective weakness is that there are some clunky turns of phrase throughout the novel. These weren’t egregious, but every once in awhile one did jar me out of the story a little.

The Dark Crystal meets Final Fantasy IX. Spit and Song is a whimsical, comical tale that is intensely personal in scope. Sure to appeal to fans of character-driven fantasy, Travis Riddle’s latest hits for me. There is a sense of wonder to the world and story akin to classics like The Neverending Story. Riddle tells stories that mean something, that challenge expectations, and that take place in richly crafted worlds. Spit and Song is no exception.

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