The Silk Map (Gaunt and Bone #2) by Chris Willrich
Genre: Adult fantasy
Release date: May 6 2014
Source: ARC from publisher
The nitty-gritty: A finely detailed story of a quest, with subtle wit and humor, beautifully written, complete with thoughtful meditations on life and love.
It was among the more terrifying moments of his life, yet he would always treasure it afterward, the time he soared, more or less, on a magic carpet. That it was more of a whirling dive than true flight, and that he was hanging from Deadfall rather than standing atop it—these were quibbles. Earthy, dusty heat rose from below. Sunset dunes twisted with jabbing shadows, like persimmons spattered with ink.
I am coming, Persimmon.
I very much enjoyed Willrich’s first Gaunt and Bone story, The Scroll of Years, and because it ended with many questions unanswered, I was anxious to find out what happened to Innocence and A-Girl-Is-A-Joy, the children of Gaunt and Bone and Snow Pine, who were trapped in a magical scroll at the end of the story. And I can tell you that some things were resolved in this follow-up, but not all, and I was relieved to discover that there will be a third book coming out called The Chart of Tomorrows, which will hopefully tie up all the loose ends. Willrich’s world is an interesting blend of East meets West, and his love of Asian culture is evident in both books. But even more than his world-building, I simply adore his writing style. Scattered throughout the story are poems written by Persimmon Gaunt, who is a poet (and she’s pretty good with a sword as well), poems that are startlingly good.
The Silk Map is not a book you should rush through, however. I found myself frustrated at times that the story was moving so slowly—mostly due to the fact that I am way behind with review books—but I realized when I finished that this story is meant to be savored.
The short version of the story is this: Gaunt, Bone, and their friend Snow Pine are trying to find the scroll where their two children are trapped. They stumble across a Great Sage who strikes a bargain: if they can locate and bring back ironsilk caterpillars, the Sage will help them find the scroll. The three friends set out to do just that, but a perilous and circuitous journey awaits them. For in order to locate the caterpillars, they must first find the missing pieces of the silk map, pieces that have been scattered around the world. And it turns out they aren’t the only ones looking for the map, as ironsilk is highly prized and a fortune worth killing for.
The characters of Gaunt and Bone are unusual in genre fiction, because they are a married couple with a child. This time around, Willrich shows the cracks that are beginning to show in their marriage, and honestly portrays such things as jealousy, anger, and losing a child. Although it may sound as if this is a serious story, that isn’t the case at all. Willrich subtly adds these observations and gives them a humorous twist, like the time that Bone dreams he is married to both Gaunt and Snow Pine, and wakes up in a cold sweat, thankful that it was only a dream.
There were many cool fantasy elements that made this story special, my favorite being a sentient magic carpet named Deadfall, who is on his own journey and meets up with Gaunt and Bone to help them at one point. I also loved the dragon horses, multi-colored animals that help transport the gang, and Gaunt’s sword Crypttongue, who imprisons the souls of its victims inside the gems that adorn the hilt.
The story itself is full of other stories: tale upon tale buried inside like Russian nesting dolls. I did like this idea, but I also felt it slowed down the pace quite a bit. I found myself getting caught up in a certain scene, only to have the action stop abruptly as one character or another felt the need to tell a story. Sometimes I even lost the story thread completely and found it hard to get started again, especially when the points of view were constantly changing. But upon finishing the book, I could see what Willrich had set out to construct: a carefully planned but meandering maze, with many starts and stops, and even places where reality shifts entirely. This is one case where you need to look past the trees to see the grandeur and beauty of the forest.
Willrich’s sly observations about relationships and life in general kept the tone light throughout, and I found myself chuckling and nodding my head in agreement. Some of the philosophical discussions between characters lost me at times, but I did appreciate the fact that almost every character in The Silk Map is intelligent and thoughtful.
If you’re looking for a page-turner, this probably won’t work for you. Which is not to say that The Silk Map isn’t exciting. There were some thrilling scenes, but they are interrupted by quiet and thoughtful moments, which lull the reader into thinking they are safe, before the author throws his characters back into danger once more. Willrich leaves poor Gaunt and Bone in yet another tricky situation at the end of the story, ensuring that I will be reading the next book to find out what happens.
Big thanks to Pyr for providing a review copy.
You can find The Silk Map here: