The Guests of Honor: Tales from the Virtue Inn Book One
by Cat Amesbury
This has been one of my favorite indie reads for a while now. I read it once, and then I read it again. A few months later, I read it again. Because of this, it’s today’s review. If I want to read it more than once, it’s review-worthy.
The fact is, Ms. Amesbury combines a lot of things I just LOVE to see in a fantasy writer. Her writing, while sometimes a little clunky for my tastes, gets the goddamn job done with little fuss or (my pet peeve) badly placed commas. Her written voice is unmistakable and a genuine pleasure to hear as you read. Her characters, including her excellent MC Honor Desry, are defined in broad, vivid strokes. And trust me, there are no weepy princesses or ruggedly handsome knights here–though there are some Virgins, but trust me, they’re not what you think. Every character, even the ones (like Mama Desry) who’re no longer there, is their own more-or-less-human.
And her imagination, good God. I don’t want to go into great detail–don’t want to spoil a single stick of it for you–but WOW. Her universe, seen through Honor Desry’s practical and worldly eyes, is absolutely convincing and, more importantly, entrancing. You feel a little bit like the writer not only sees the world before her, but is absolutely floored by how beautiful and strange it is. Ever been on a tour with a tour guide who loves what he or she is doing? Makes the tour a lot better, doesn’t it. It’s the same thing happening here. I read a few other reviews of this when I bought it, and I was amused to see several saying parts of it–namely the very lively kitchen appliances and laundy– ‘defy belief’. Well, this is about the highest praise I can imagine giving a fantasy novel. I want my beliefs defied. Particularly, my belief that an egg timer can’t be adorable.
I really can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s original, personal/extrapersonal conflicts layer together perfectly, and Ms. Amesbury manages to write some funny, funny stuff without losing a centimeter of heart or storytelling honesty. Also some of the best romantic tension I’ve seen in a fantasy novel, and this is me, disinterested ignorer of romances, saying that.
A moment to just mention, as well, the stand-alone awesomeness of Honor Desry as a main character. Here is a strong, independent woman who, while certainly able to move forward and lay down the law, still has a lot to learn. There are a lot of Big Five published writers who could learn serious lessons from the believable way Honor reacts to unbelievable situations, from the seamlesness with which her backstory is interwoven with the present. Her interactions with her mother–who is not, save by her absence, a physical participant in the plotline–make for one of the most believable family elements I’ve seen. This is not a young adult story to me, and it’s because of Honor. Honor, like a lot of folks in their late twenties/early thirties, is still trying to balance what she came from with what she is. And she finds, as I think most people do, that the two are more related than you’d think.
Also, the cover is just adorable.
Downsides, though there aren’t many, include:
Sometimes the writing is a little confusing. Book could’ve benefitted from one more draft, I think, with special attention paid to character location and the way characters move through a scene. There’s a scene near the 70% mark, for instance, where two characters start moving down the hall to get coffee, talk a bit, and after what seems like two or three geological ages, get coffee. I understood what was going on after a read or two, but the wording was just awkward, and the conversation was too long for a hallway poised on the brink of something else.
The wording gets, occasionally, a little awkward–Ms. Amesbury tends to sacrifice clarity for voice, and, fortunately, her voice is so clear and lovable she for the most part gets away with it. This sort of thing doesn’t bother me as much as it bothers some folks. If I wanted to spend my reading time hunting for errant adverbs and correcting participle placement, I’d grade English papers for a living.
Also, I do feel like the last twenty percent or so suffers from a serious case of too much, too fast. The plot gets a bit cluttered as Ms. Amesbury tries to clear up loose threads. Again, I’ve seen it handled in far, FAR worse ways. The main villain is introduced far too late, and as a result the ending feels a little tacked-on. But, again, the fun of this story for me had nothing to do with the actual plot and everything to do with the digressions and discoveries along the way.
Great read if you’re looking to get lost in a world nestled right inside our own, with some relatable characters who take lessons from everyday life into a fantasy setting with them. If I didn’t frequently use this word as an insult, I’d use the word ‘whimsical’. Since I don’t want to insult the totally undeserving Amesbury, I’ll instead say she combines contemporary fantasy and old-school Southern Gothic elements with flair.
God, ‘flair’ isn’t much better, is it. Shit.
It’s funky. There we go. We like funky.
This has been your seven AM chronically nonsleeping review. Now I’m off to edit more and drink coffee straight from the pot. In the meantime, if you want to spend your money on something worthwhile, forgo your morning cup of Starbucks and buy Ms. Amesbury’s book right here, right in the kisser, c’monnn, you. You’ll be pleased to know she’s got a second one coming out (named, just as punnily as the first, ‘With Honor Intact’,) though I couldn’t for the life of me find a release date.