2015; 245 pages. Book 1 of The Whisper King series. New Author? : No. Genre : Dark Fantasy. Overall Rating : 8½*/10.
For 7-year-old David Kinder, the creeping shadows on the bedroom wall at the orphanage are scary. Of course, this is a common phobia for all young kids when they’re alone in the dark. But these shadows seem to talk to David, saying something like “Cuthach turas Scath Sliabh bheith i seirbhis ag Cogar Ri.”
Okay, David, let’s not panic. It could be some mind game, or some ventriloquist throwing his voice. But then a flash of lightning reveals that the shadows have grown fangs, claws, and tortured eyes.
Okay, now it’s time to panic!
What’s To Like...
For those readers who have already read Wil Radcliffe’s books, The Whisper King is a radical departure from his Noggle Stones series. It’s set in a different world – Michigan, starting in the 1980’s - and the tone is much darker. David Kinder is a troubled soul, which is also true of a lot of the characters you meet here.
The opening quarter of the book will remind you of a Stephen King horror tale, but really this falls more into the Dark Fantasy genre. There is a lot of cussing, some sex, and an allusion to pedophilia; but this is all balanced by Wil Radcliffe’s trademark wit, David Kinder’s sharp tongue, some romance, and a bunch of kewl references to things like Star Wars, hippies, Nietzsche, a dude named Johann Friedrich Bottger (yeah, I had to wiki him too), and a slew of 60’s-80’s classic rock bands.
But the real strength of The Whisper King is the superb storytelling. The world-building is “just right”, there are plenty of plot twists, and no slow spots. All of the characters have roles to play in the plotline, and even our Ultimate Evil, The Whisper King, is at least a little “gray”. He’s approachable, he can laugh, and he has a grand plan. But don’t fail him or betray his trust; he’s still predominantly “black”.
The chapters are short, so there’s always a convenient place to stop. It is written from the 1st-person (David’s) POV, as he grapples with why all this sh*t is happening to him. I wouldn’t call this a standalone novel, but it ends at a logical place, and the teaser epilogue will leave you drooling for the sequel.
Kewlest New Word. . .
Baluster (n.) : a short pillar or column, typically decorative in design, in a series supporting a rail or balustrade.
“Why is music forbidden?”
“Cogar Ri has his reasons.”
“Why are we being trained to fight?”
“Cogar Ri has his reasons.”
“Why does my ass itch?”
“Cogar Ri has his reasons.” (pg. 64)
So there I was, embracing a goddess. Falling into a world of sweat and groans. My body reacted to her every touch as if being reborn over and over. I kept my eyes closed the entire time, fearing that if I opened them I might discover I’d merely been in a dream.
Christ. If that prose was any more purple they’d give it its own kids’ show on PBS. (pg. 130)
There’s no cure for stupid, but a good beating will treat the symptoms. (pg. 209)
To say that there is a lot of cussing in The Whisper King is an understatement. There’s a slew of it, even when 7-year-old David is narrating. I thought it helped set the tone of the book, but inevitably there will be some readers who will be turned off by it, especially if they were looking for another installment in the Noggle Stones series.
I found TWK to be an unanticipated broadening of Wil Radcliffe’s literary repertoire. I love to read Light Fantasy books, but I enjoy Stephen-King-esque Horror-Fantasy as well. And, as with Jasper Fforde and (the late) Terry Pratchett, the more series an author starts, the more books we can expect from him. Plus, I’m happy whenever any of my favorite authors refuses to be confined to just one genre.
Bottom line – if you're a reader of Dark Fantasy, then unless you’re turned off by the plethora of cusswords, you will enjoy The Whisper King just as much any of the Noggle Stones stories. The tone is of course completely different, but, as always, Radcliffe's storytelling is a real treat.
8½ Stars. I received an Advance Uncorrected Proof version of The Whisper King for my reading enjoyment and feedback. The book will be released at Amazon on July 17th.