Editor's Note: We have a guest review here by author Bryce Anderson.
Brotherhood of Delinquents by Jefferson Smith. Published by Creative Hacker Press
Rating: (8 out of 10)
Quick pitch: Three teenagers—a thieving scutkid, a failed blacksmith's apprentice, and an orphaned ex-sailor—stand as the kingdom's last defense against an ancient threat.
God help us all.
Plot: Merrick, a blacksmith's apprentice, finds a strange blue ghost in the smithy one night. He follows it around the city, eventually finding a group of mysterious, robe-clad mummers digging a hole. Frustrated in their search, the mummers depart. In cooperation with two other boys, led to the same place by the same ghost, they break into the vault the mummers have abandoned, finding a package.
Before they can open it, law enforcement ('boots,' who have already been established as corrupt) show up. The kids scatter and reunite in the middle of the keep's junkyard, filled with the old bones of ancient siege equipment. Inside the package they find a trio of unassuming artifacts which turn out to have nifty powers.
But with nifty stuff comes great responsibility. The artifacts lead them into a cavern beneath the Siege Yards, where scary-dark-chasing ensues. Once the danger is vanquished, the three are inducted into the Brotherhood of Delinquents, a secret society devoted to the defense of Keep and Kingdom, whose members adopt a carefully crafted persona of being inconsequential screw-ups.
Review: The writing is excellent, and the story idea is absolute YA catnip. What kid growing up didn't want to form a secret society with their friends and go on important adventures? Jefferson Smith takes that childhood fantasy to the next level, giving his team a nifty secret clubhouse and daring exploits in defense of the kingdom.
Brotherhood really captures the teenage years and their tension between "everything is new and exciting and full of possibility" and "holy crap, I'm not the person I'm supposed to be and I don't fit in anywhere." Merrick's father, the ill-tempered but sympathetic Bahzen, sees that his son has no talent or drive for the blacksmithing trade, and is clearly conflicted over what to do about it. Merrick tries his best out of a sense of duty, but knows he's blowing it and worries about his future. Then he goes off with his friends to try and thwart the artifact-stealing mummers, and it sort of fits. But this secret heroic destiny conflicts directly with his ability to make a respectable livelihood and earn his father's respect. That tension plays out throughout the book, wrapping up at the end in a moving way (no spoilers).
Smith's writing style is mostly clean and direct, focused on telling a fun story in a clear way. But sometimes the book manages to be something a little better, something more polished and captivating. A few examples that stood out: our first glimpse of the Siege Yards, the part where Merrick is dismissed as an apprentice, and the story joust. These parts evoked a sense of warm nostalgia for things that never actually happened to me. Which is pretty gor-ram impressive, if you ask me.
Smith also nails something which so many fantasy writers botch: in-world slang, idioms, and aphorisms. They're not laid on too thick, they are usually comprehensible on the first mention, and they just have the right sound to them.
So if you want to join a trio of wayward youths on a grand, rolicking adventure, or if you want to feel nostalgic for the teenage years you only wish you'd lived, pick up Brotherhood of Delinquents by Jefferson Smith.
Availability: Until May 7, 2015, the book is available only as part of the #ImmerseOrDie StoryBundle, along with eight other nifty books (including "The Improbable Rise of Singularity Girl," by Bryce Anderson who is me).
Bryce Anderson, part man, part machine, all...ways typing stuff down on a computer. He mostly writes sci-fi and fantasy, but sometimes branches out into political rants, ransom notes, and passive-aggressive post-its. In an alternate dimension, Bryce rules over the five lunar colonies with an iron fist. In this one, he lives in Salt Lake City.