Author: Travis M Riddle
Kali is a merchant who yearns to leave the harsh deserts of Herrilock and travel across the sea, trading goods and soaking in the sights and cultures. With a new potion on the market undercutting her profits, though, her seabound dreams are put on hold indefinitely.
Failed musician Puk hits rock bottom after yet another catastrophic performance. Wandering the city streets in search of any sip of booze or whiff of fire-spit he can get his hands on, he resigns to the fact that he’s stuck in the desert with no way back home to Atlua.
Until one day, their paths cross with an illicit job opportunity. With its hefty payday, Kali and Puk could afford to finally escape the desert heat and set sail across the gulf.
The black market job would see them travel endless dunes on a road made from a massive dead beast’s ribs and out to a mythical city in the sea, scuffling with monsters and thugs in search of a long-lost book that might be the most dangerous object in the world.
How hard could it really be?
Before talking about the book, I just want to say how much I adore the cover art. It’s stunning! You can find the author Amir Zand’s work at Amirzandartist.com
At times I wasn’t sure whether Spit and Song sits firmly within the fantasy genre, or whether it might be labelled as sci-fi at times. I don’t mean that it feels futuristic, but the city of Yspleash our story begins in feels so much like Jakku and Tatooine from the Star Wars universe in many ways that I couldn’t help but draw comparisons. Most of the characters and creatures we meet are very different than what we’ve come to expect in fantasy, comprising a new and diverse world that feels refreshing.
This book isn’t anything like Star Wars in most other ways and it would be unfair to dwell on comparisons for such a unique feeling book, but if you think of the Cantina bar and its inhabitants, you’ve got a good picture on the sort of world Travis Riddle has created here. There are Centripts, centipede like people living in fear of The Mold, a deadly disease that eats away at them in stages. There are Faifs, like one of our protagonists, Kali. They have bright skin, blue and green coloured with asexual forms and needing to eat and drink very little. Puk, our other protagonist, is Quarmish. He has eyestalks and his kind need four males and a female to reproduce; all five then bring up the child! The depth of the different types of people and animals Riddle has created is really nice to see, especially as I have a new favourite creature – the Ayote. Just like a horse, they’re used for travelling but have a friendlier, more playful nature with a long snout and hard body. It’s easy to get attached to them! (See the cover art for a better idea)
The plot follows our characters of Kali and Puk, the flower and the frog as they set off towards the mysterious city of Myrisih to steal a book from a mage believed to be practicing ‘red magic’ – a malevolent and dangerous type of magic in which the user can create illusions and distort the very fabric of reality.
To follow these characters through a 500 page book, they have to be likeable and interesting. For the most part this rings true – Kali is your typical moral hero whilst Puk is a counter to this to some extent, more morally ambiguous as well as a little annoying at times (though I think that’s an intentional part of the character)
It isn’t 100% character driven though and there’s a lot of world building which is done really well. Those who hate ‘info dumps’ will be pleased to gain a better understanding of the world through natural events and a drip feeding of information rather than being given it all in one go. I’d say the world building is certainly the book’s biggest strength. I really liked the characters and the plot was fun but the world just feels so well thought out and unique that this is immediately the thing that stays in your mind whilst and after reading. For those readers that like things to be central to the main plot at all times and go-go-go may find parts slow. It is certainly a relaxing read in places and there were big chunks you could cut out without affecting the story. Equally though, this extra depth will appeal to other readers who like to devour as much as possible about a new world. As a whole after reading the book, these extra pages do give the book, the characters and the world more substance.
Speaking of substance, shady bars and drugs play a fairly prominent role – the Spit in the title is a strong drug called ‘fire spit’ distilled from the saliva of creatures called Cordols. It’s extremely potent in its raw form! And Puk has a fondness for it, naturally. It’s a dangerous mission our characters set out on but one that brings the unlikely pairing together and gives them a sense of purpose. It may just start as the means to get money for more fire spit for Puk; to fund trading excursions for Kali, but could it be that the journey itself is the real reward? Kali you feel is destined to make her mark on the world, something she doesn’t feel she’s really doing. Discovery is in her bones and you feel this adventure is something she needs, whatever the risks.
Ultimately, if you want a fresh new fantasy read that sticks to everything that makes a fantasy book fun – the adventure, magic and imagination (did I mention a city built within the huge skeleton of a dragon!?) whilst turning alot of traditional fantasy elements completely on their head, or just throwing them away altogether, this is the book for you.
A fresh, colourful, exciting new fantasy full of depth and wonder. Perfect for escaping the struggles of daily life.