The Incorruptibles by John Hornor Jacobs

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The Incorruptibles by John Hornor Jacobs

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A steampunk fantasy that's top-heavily endowed with varying influences but still emerges with some clever touches.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: August 2014
Publisher: Gollancz
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0575133662

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Fisk and Shoestring are a couple of the mercenaries paid to guard Ruman high born Cornelius and his family of spoilt, back-biting in-fighters on board their steamer, The Cornelian. The exception to the continuous badly-mooded is Cornelius' daughter, the healer, Livia. She seems to have struck up a rapport with Fisk; the reason why they get on so well seems hidden in a dark secret that Shoe hopes to crack if they live that long. The truth is that life is cheap – the Stretchers roam the land, bloodthirsty and dangerous ensuring that Fisk and Shoe earn every penny Cornelius allows them.

American artist, musician and author James Hornor Jacobs has a prolific literary output including a YA series, The Incarcerado Trilogy. His first novel, Southern Gods was shortlisted for the prestigious Bram Stoker Award. The Incorruptibles, his first fantasy novel which heralds another series, is interesting in that it may be a bit Marmite. You see, your opinion all depends on how you like to take your fantasy.

There's no doubt here we have a variety pack of a book. The feel is Cowboys vs Indians/wild west with a patriarchal Cornelius towering over his family like a river-bound Burl Ives in The Big Country. However the Indians are actually aliens. These lethal, 'barbaric' Stretchers who have something in common with America's first countrymen – they're indigenous.

As the Native Americans were considered non-human life forms back in the 19th century this raises some clever resonances. Another bonus is that the Stretchers have enough other-worldliness about them to pose some intriguing questions going forward.

Then add to that the influences of ancient Greece and Rome. Cornelius is a proconsul and the power/ranking system definitely owes its origins to that era. Not finished yet though… We also have the Vaettir and Dvergar, both of which were originally part of the Norwegian mythology, proving much thought and research has been applied.

Character-wise, the chaps that stood out for me (apart from the Stretchers aka Vaettir) are our two mercenary mates. Everyone else remains a little two-dimensional but this is still only the first book in the series. Having said that, Shoestring is colourful enough to be able to carry the tale to some extent, along with the fast paced bloody action scenes.

Shoestring is one of the aforementioned Dvengaries, a dwarf people who are much scorned and side-lined. The good news is that it also brings him assets of which others would be envious.

In some places one can't help thinking that John is trying a little too hard to make us identify with the story. Rumans sounds similar to Romans, some of the slaves are 'Numidian' (a mere lexicographic hop and skip from Nubian) and then there are places that bask in names like Aegypt and Chinee. This is only one side of the coin though.

Yes, there may be some transparently easy name borrowing going on, but John can build a fantasy world just as easily. This is an author with vision as we're slowly separated from our preconceptions. Our heroes may use guns but the powder and bullets are guided by something other than propulsion. It may be a paddle steamer and yet something down below is very different.

Esteemed fantasy authors Myke Cole and Mark Lawrence rave about John. This being the first novel of his that I've read, I'm not in rave mode myself yet. However I have seen more than enough to pique my interest and twinge my sense of intrigue. I am confident that the flat will be fleshed, questions answered and more cliff hangers dangled. Whether we like The Incorruptibles or feel ambivalent towards it, I'm sure many of us will agree the next volume in the series has the potential to be a stonker.

(Thank you Gollancz for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If this appeals, then Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding, becoming somewhat of a classic, has a very similar but more rounded feel.

Buy The Incorruptibles by John Hornor Jacobs at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Incorruptibles by John Hornor Jacobs at

Buy The Incorruptibles by John Hornor Jacobs at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Incorruptibles by John Hornor Jacobs at


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