by Tom Doyle
Cover Artist: Dominick Saponard
Review by Jon Guenther
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765337511
Date: 06 May 2014 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
While this was an unusual story to find in the realm of your typical fantasy, there's little doubt Tom Doyle will be a writer to watch. In this debut novel, American Craftsmen, I was immersed in what I felt to be an entirely new sub-genre that I can only describe as paramilitary fantasy.
This is the story of Dale Morton, a soldier capable of not only embarking on high-stakes secret missions for the government, but also of wielding what Doyle calls craft (a.k.a., magic spell-casting) against his enemies. And while it's not quite clear, Morton is the descendant of one of the families directly involved with the founding of America. Or so that's what I got from the narrative.
Alongside Morton is the young and naive (or we're supposed to believe she's somewhat innocent) Scherie, who provides both the romantic link and serves as aide-de-camp when Morton goes up against his arch enemy, Major Endicott, who is a Craftsman from a rival house. In an interesting twist, however, it would seem Endicott is also somewhat a beneficent sort given his Puritan roots and the idea of the two assassins attempting to kill Morton pose the greater evil.
I actually found myself surprised that as I progressed my reticence turned to enjoyment, although there were times the storyteller had a tendency to ramble. During those moments I wondered if everything being explained was that important to the underlying story. I sometimes found this to be the case, in other moments I deemed it authorial intrusion. At the end of game, I ultimately found it forgivable as I was mystified by the originality of the plot and premise.
Two other things I found admirable: a newer author who was actually able to pull off a quite decent climax and ending. Also noteworthy was the transition between first and third person. Most authors who risk this approach can't pull it off effectively. I found Mr. Doyle quite adept on that point. In contrast, it should be pointed out that some of the language, such as the use of perspicacity (and used more than once in proximity) and a couple of other fifty-cent words, seemed like a false reach for literary merit. Not to nitpick but they were plain out of a place in a novel that demands a more gritty and banal narrative, and I found it distracting.
Nonetheless, Doyle did well on the score of entertainment factor with American Craftsmen. I surmise the book will at least draw a considerable cult following if it succeeds into a series.