The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn by Tyler Whitesides
Ardor Benn and his friend and partner Raekon Dorrel are con artists. They live in a world where a substance called grit (extracted from dragon poo) has magical properties.
There are different types of grit, depending on what the dragon ate, and they can be used to create various magical effects. Drift grit, for example, lets the user float in the air like a helium balloon, and barrier grit creates a temporary invisible wall.
Ard and Raek are clever and resourceful, pulling elaborate cons using grit. Ard calls himself a “ruse artist extraordinaire” but deep down he knows that his lifestyle is unhealthy. His mother and the woman he loves think he’s dead and he’s too ashamed to let them know the truth.
When Ard and Raek get a dangerous job offer that would pay enough to let them retire from their lives of crime, they decide to take it. It will require extensive planning with a team of the most talented and expensive con artists available.
As the troupe’s preparation ensues, it gradually becomes clear that this is no ordinary sting. Politics, religion, treachery, and heresy are involved. If the team fails, they’ll almost certainly be executed. But if they succeed, they just may save their kingdom from total destruction.
I’m always up for a heist story and The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn (2018), the first novel in Tyler Whitesides’s KINGDOM OF GRIT, is a fun one with an imaginative magic system (a lot like Brandon Sanderson’s allomancy in MISTBORN).
The plot moves fast and is entertaining. The ruses are amusing and so is the grit-based magic which makes for lots of exciting action scenes.
But Ardor’s elaborate multi-stepped schemes require a lot of little pieces to fall into place in exactly the right way and are thus a bit hard to believe in.
The characters are likeable but their dialogue sometimes seems unnatural, and the chemistry of the developing romantic relationship, which is an important part of the plot, also lacks credibility. I also didn’t believe that Ardor wouldn’t tell his mom and the woman he loves that he’s still alive.
So, I had some issues but, as I said, The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn is fun and I didn’t regret reading it.
The audio version by Hachette Audio is read by the author himself, something I love when it’s done well, as it is here. It’s nice to be certain that the author’s intentions are faithfully rendered.
Unfortunately, the next two books, The Shattered Realm of Ardor Benn (November 2020) and The Last Lies of Ardor Benn (December 2020), are not yet available in audio format and I don’t see any information about them on Tyler Whitesides’s website. If they appear, I’ll probably read them.
I love me a good heist. I might try this at some point, despite the negatives.
If you do, let me know what you think.