THE SHATTERED REALM OF ARDOR BENN by Tyler Whitesides (BOOK REVIEW)
Contains minor spoilers for Book One of the Kingdom of Grit trilogy.
In a world of war-ravaged empires and dragon-fueled magic, master con artist Ardor Benn must infiltrate a centuries-old secret organization to find a missing royal heir. The plot thickens and the stakes are raised, and Ardor realizes that stopping the complete and utter collapse of civilization is quickly becoming his speciality, in the second book of the Kingdom of Grit trilogy.
He’s back and he’s at it again.
The Shattered Realm of Ardor Benn picks up a year or so after the first book. It brings back all our favourite characters from the first book, introduces us to some despicable new villains, and toys with the reader’s mind with the wonderful cleverness of the cons. After the sudden death of the sitting monarch, Shad Agaul, his Uncle Termain takes over and proceeds to rule the country in exactly the way you’d expect of someone who most likely murdered their nephew in cold blood.
Whilst escaping from a job gone distinctly wrong, Ardor our protagonist and his faithful friend Raek stumble upon the mother of the recently despatched monarch who is quite sure her son is not dead and, believing Ardor to be an inspector, tasks him with tracking him down and discovering his fate. During the course of his investigation, one that involves many ruses, he hears word of a secret society known as “The Realm”.
Raek is not the same man we knew from the first book. His injury from the end of Book one has left him with a pipe infused into his chest that requires constant Health Grit and he is sick to death of hearing Ardor moan about his love for Quarrah. He is still a genius mixing Grit but we get a much better insight into who he is as a man Quarrah has avoided Ardor ever since the events, sick to death of his arrogance and determined to not make the same mistake twice. Still operating as a clandestine thief Quarrah is tasked by the King’s mother to determine if he is being controlled by the same society that Ardor is investigating. We get POV’s from Ardor and Quarrah and also a new character Portsend Wal. Portsend is a professor of Grit at the university and he is tasked by the king to discover new Grits that have been uncovered in an ancient tome.
The Shattered Realm of Ardor Benn has a little bit more mystery than the first book. The question is not necessarily how will Ardor complete the job, but who is the real enemy he is up against. There is a deeper dive into the magical system of the world with new types of Grit being discovered, named and put into use. It does get quite sciency at times with a decent amount of pages being dedicated to the mixing and measuring of Grit in Portsend’s laboratory. There are many discussions about how new discoveries can be put into action and because of this there were some moments where it seemed to slow the momentum a bit. The characters’ unfamiliarity with the new Grits meant a lot of time was spent discussing the theory of how it would be used and what would happen, often interrupting particularly exciting moments like fighting off a dragon or a Young Guns style Alamo shoutout. It allows for some incredible moments on both offence and defence but at times I just wanted to see Ardor in action rather than necessarily understanding absolutely everything behind the scientific basis of what was taking place.
Overall The Shattered Realm of Ardor Benn is thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. It’s superb fantasy with a witty if not wise protagonist who will steal your heart and maybe your identity. The magical system is innovative and great fun and there are tons of thrills and spills. I’ve already got the third book but I have wrapped it up as a Christmas present to myself because I plan on eating, drinking and reading a lot that day and I don’t wish to leave the reading part to chance.