Fantasy Review: ‘The Chart of Tomorrows’ by Chris Willrich

The Chart of Tomorrows (Gaunt and Bone #3)I am not sure if the Gaunt and Bone series, now on book three, is literary fantasy or just cleverly designed to look like it is. Personally I enjoyed the complete perspective changes used when switching point of view such as Mad Katta’s thoughts only seen through a journal while other characters are seen in a more traditional third person view. Flashbacks coming in story form takes away some of the awkwardness simply by realizing that if it is going to stand out then it is better that it is meant to. And the prose started of strong and has not slacked.

And while I have been mesmerized by a unique style I have also just enjoyed my reading experience thus far. Because I have characters to root for, not because they are wonderful humans but because even in this land of strange and noteworthy most of them have very a very human feel. Wants, desires, loyalties are something universal, as are lusts, irrational hatreds, and greed. All things that make even the villains worth reading about (though villain is hard word to justify seeing how in Chart of Tomorrows several of the ‘heroes’ end up on opposite sides of the brewing fight).

By suggesting that the Gaunt and Bone series could be literary in nature it would not be a stretch if one were to guess the series borders on the ‘weird’ side; new weird seems to attract a authors with the ability to turn a phrase and track insane little details. Chart of Tomorrows doesn’t disappoint on that end. It continues with a unique time moving trick that allows some characters to grow dramatically between books while others have only seen a year or two go by (tracking time is not my strong point). It has trolls, people switched with trolls at birth, and a heart hidden away from a body. And if you have stuck with the series you already know about Bone’s unique condition, the hidden world in a scroll (used to great effect this time around), and the magic carpet with major identity issues.

Here is the thing though. Despite the fact that the page count keeps getting inflated, book by book, I am not all that positive that somewhere along the line the author didn’t pull a fast one on me. The dense language and nonlinear plotting doesn’t make the series an easy read but I think I am a fairly intelligent reader and somewhere along the way I realized I wasn’t that sure what the hell is going on. Two children we have watched grow became the center of something earth shaking. Why was their path inevitable? I also have no idea what a few of the characters added outside of lengthy passages that left me cold. Too many characters played small parts without really seeming important enough to warrant their page time; it is the author’s story to tell but I missed the shorter and (slightly) more focused style of the first book.

If I could level one more small complaint it feels like we got a bit heavy handed with the anachronistic social issues. I am not, and I want this clear, complaining that the book featured societies accepting of things like gender fluidity. I applaud that a character can choose to be genderless without the book dissolving into medieval persecution. But the way it is handled, particularly in dialog as people not familiar with the concept come to terms with it, feel very twenty first century. I felt the that supporting text explaining things took away from the impact that just letting the character clearly be seen could have had.

Still, there is something about the whimsical nature that Willrich has laced this series with and that something has held from book one to three. While the weird vibe allows for a world where it seems anything can happen nothing ever feels like there isn’t an explanation for it somewhere. Not, mind you, an explanation the author feels he has to tell the reader each and every time. Rather there is a feeling that there are some rules this strange and wonderful world lives by; be it genie powered balloons or time shifting or carpets with homicidal tendencies.

Is this the final book in the series? I honestly don’t know though it reads like it could be. If so I will consider the series quite a success. It did something different, borrowed from earth and various cultures without ever converting to stereotypes or clichés. It mixed and matched cultures, creatures, and ideas and came out completely unique. While overall I don’t feel the final book was the best representative of the series it did end with a lot of excitement. And to bring things full circle I think literary fantasy is a perfectly apt description of this mostly indescribable series.

3 Stars

Copy for review provided by publisher.