If I was still giving my one line book reviews I would say Oathbreaker, the premier novel by author A.J. Rettger, was “Brain Popcorn.” I might even go with “Dark Brain Popcorn.” Oh, for simpler days.
I picked up Oathbreaker because that is exactly what I thought the story would be, light, fluffy not much to chew on. I was so wrong. The novel turned out to be much more like toffee, in that there is a lot to chew on here. I still have some of it stuck to my teeth.
The story started out pretty much what I thought it would be. A retelling of the dashing knight story. Young knight goes out into the world, slays monster, rescues maiden, happily ever after. Boom. Done. I swear I could almost hear the dice rolling in the background.
“That’s a crit.”
“Oh, dude. This is gonna hurt.”
“Have a backup ready?”
In some ways that is exactly what I found. In other ways, not so much.
A note on the mechanics of the novel. The writing is choppy at times and lacks a polish, but still the story moves along at a good clip. About halfway I stopped being derailed by the writing because I had enough interest in the story itself. I would like the characters to have a bit more depth. But, in reading this novel as a morality play the characters’ limits help them play the foil to the protagonist all the better.
For the rest… I could be overthinking this. That has been known to happen.
If you are familiar with Vonnegut’s story profiles then you’ll understand when I say that Oathbreaker definitely follows the Kafka profile. While there are no giant cockroaches to keep the reader awake, there are certainly enough monsters and incidents of the monstrous to provide some unease.
The story follows Mario Deschamps, son to a legendary knight, who dreams of following in his father’s illustrious footsteps. The story begins on the day Mario is to be let out into the world from his education. He is a bright, shiny, newly minted Knight (pro-tem). But, before he even gets out of the gates there is an incident where Mario fails to live up to expectations. He disappoints himself and others.
So, our newly minted knight has a chink in his armour. That’s fine – redemption is good for the soul. But – despite all his attempts to ‘do good’ we see Mario slide from one failure to another and perhaps more tellingly from small to greater and greater sins. On this quest, Mario finds companions that help, hinder, and suffer along with him.
But in the dog-eat-dog world Mario seems to be outclassed by the bubbling menace that pervades everything. It is a world where you can’t stay innocent – much as you might try. Mario’s quest becomes a road paved with good intentions and failures.
Mario is certainly guilty of Pride at the opening. But, he is quickly humbled by fate, at least for a little while. Anger, Lust, and Folly also make appearances. Each wreaks their particular brand of ‘evil’. But, the biggest sin isn’t seen directly. Unmentioned is Mario’s naivete, which is the most pernicious and ultimately damning sin.
In short: There is no light at the end of this tunnel. So, if you like your fantasy dark, this might be for you. Mr. Rettger has more to learn about the craft of writing, but he tells a good story.
Now, I am going to go read something a bit lighter, like the Book of Revelations.