In the Palace of Shadow and Joy by D.J. Butler
D.J. Butler tries his hand at the two-loveable-rogues-for-hire story and mostly succeeds.
Our two loveable rogues are Indrajit Twang and Fix. Indrajit is the poet of his very small clan of people. He has come to the great city of Kish to find (he hopes) an apprentice who can learn the epic poem of his race so it can be passed down to the next generation. If he does not succeed, all of the history and culture of these few hundred people will be lost.
But meanwhile, he’s in debt and needs to earn some money. When he hires on with a risk insurance merchant, he meets his new partner Fix, a curious and educated orphan who grew up in Kish. Indrajit and Fix’s job is to keep an eye on a famous opera star named Ilsa Without Peer. There’s been an insurance policy taken out on her and the risk merchant thinks someone is trying to cheat on the deal. He wants Indrajit and Fix to watch for foul play.
It seems like an easy job until someone tries to assassinate Ilsa Without Peer. The two rogues must unravel a complicated plot while attempting to keep the famous opera singer and themselves alive.
In the Palace of Shadow and Joy (2020) is an action-packed and mysterious adventure set in a bizarre alien city. Butler’s strength is his creativity with all the alien species he introduces — they are really cool. Ilsa, for example, has two voice-boxes. One emits her unpleasant speaking voice and the other emits a pheromone that makes her listeners feel nostalgic.
All of this action and creativity comes at the expense, though, of character development. Our heroes, Indrajit and Fix, have a few unique traits that make them interesting, and the banter between them is often amusing and sometimes clever, but I didn’t care about them the same way that I care for, say, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. Part of this is probably due to Indrajit and Fix not being completely human, but most of it is just that I didn’t get to know them well enough or just didn’t like them as much as I like the two aforementioned loveable rogues.
In the Palace of Shadow and Joy stands alone but it appears that it might be the beginning of a new series — you know, the one where the two loveable rogues meet each other and have their first adventure together. As such, it pales in comparison to the sublime Ill Met in Lankhmar, which deservedly won both a Hugo and Nebula Award for Best novella back in 1970.
Still, I’m willing to read the next adventure of Indrajit and Fix, if it arrives. I listened to Tantor Audio’s edition of In the Palace of Shadow and Joy which is 8.5 hours long and was published in March 2021. Derek Shoales gives a spirited performance that worked well with this story.
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