Envy isn’t dark or scary, but the stakes are legit. Beeden develops his characters so impeccably you can’t help but care about what happens to them.
When Charlie Lightfoot plays his fiddle, people listen.
More importantly, they pay.
It could be that music is Charlie’s way out of a tough life on the Backstreets of Calver.
There are, however, plenty of people who are only too happy for Charlie to stay exactly where he is. Not only that, they’ll do whatever they can to keep him there.
But when Charlie decides to take his future in his own hands, he realises just how far-reaching the hands of others can be.
A story about always keeping your eye on someone else’s blessings.
“Envy is a Seven Deadly and Four novel set in and around the notorious city built on a hill – Calver. Once within the city’s great walls you’ll encounter such luminaries as Auntie, Drunk Morgan, Mr. Lunk, Blind Watch ‘em, as well as Charlie Lightfoot and his friends. Just remember to watch your step, keep your wits about you and carry something pointy.”
The Seven Deadly and Four books have been described as “ideal for fans of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett.”
Whitney: When it comes to books I enjoyed, writing reviews is a piece of cake. But books I loved? Well, writing reviews for those makes me all sweaty and more often than not, I wind up staring at a blinking cursor on the computer screen, cussing myself for being stupid. Why? Because I want to tell others all the things! I find myself in danger of giving away every twist and surprise. I want to act out the parts. I want to paint the landscape as I imagined it. I want to moosh together faces so others can see the characters the same way I do. And that’s where I am with Envy. I’m a sweaty, cussy, no-word-having, pantomiming, can’t-draw-stick-figures, photoshopping mess. I loved this book.
And when I say loved…I mean I fell into it and read it in one 4-hour sitting. The first time. I read it again a few days later and leisurely strolled through the pages in two days. The third time? (Yes…you read that correctly, the third time.) I wallowed for a week. I poked around in the gritty Backstreet corners of Calver. I tapped my toes to the neverheard rhythms of “The Bride of the Open Pastures.” I cheered for heroes’ triumphs and wished death on villains.
Krystle: While I didn’t read Envy as many times as Whitney did, I can confirm that this novel is easy to love! Beeden draws us in quickly and effectively, with a charming narrative voice that always gives just enough information to keep you grounded in what’s going on. Beeden’s humour is definitely his strength, and most of my highlights of Envy were lines that made me LITERALLY laugh out loud.
Whitney: So what should I tell you about Envy? Tim Beeden wrote it and it’s the second book in his “Seven Deadly and Four” series. But that doesn’t help you much. Not really.
One of Beeden’s most impressive talents is his ability to write a story that reads like someone is telling it aloud. I’m not an audiobook type of person but if someone were to tell me this story, I’d hang on their every word.
Krystle: Cutting in again to add: whilst I’m not a musician, I found myself especially drawn to how lovingly Beeden (through the MC, Charlie) talks about making music. This exchange especially really caught me, since it’s often how I feel about writing in general:
“You were fantastic!” Charlie said, sitting down beside him.
“Right up until I wasn’t,” Blind Watchem replied. “The worst part was, I knew it was coming. Could feel it coming but still couldn’t stop. Once the music gets a hold of you, you’ve got to ride the lightning. Even if it means you end up getting burnt.”
Whitney: Equally impressive is the fact that Envy rubs up right alongside accepted standard fantasy tropes without actually employing any of them.
Unlikely but likable hero?
How about Charlie Lightfoot, a smart-mouthed street kid just trying to make a living?
Yes. Arthur and Millicent. But they aren’t lifelong friends or soul mates. More like Legolas and Gimli. You know, they’re tossed together and don’t particularly like each other, or Charlie, to start off with.
Eh…more like spontaneous exploration to escape oppression and injustice. A journey to live a little.
Let’s go with Blind Watchem, a heavy drinking former musician turned music teacher, instead.
Music is moving, powerful, transformative; that will work.
How about pompous, wealthy, utterly detestable nobility treating people like chattel?
Mysterious hedge witch/priestess?
Umm…Auntie. A cantankerous old woman with a soft spot for wayward orphans and who just happens to know everyone and everything as soon as it happens.
Envy isn’t dark or scary, but the stakes are legit. Beeden develops his characters so impeccably you can’t help but care about what happens to them. This is an easy read without being simple. It’s funny but doesn’t try to be. It’s sweet without the saccharine. Honestly, it reads like listening to someone tell a story. Aside from the thoroughly developed primary players, the secondary (and tertiary) characters are superb and play their roles beautifully. I mean, how can you go wrong with people named Mr. Lunk, Drunk Morgan, and Hacker Jon?
Beeden unflinchingly pokes the tender places where human insecurity and jealousy live – without walloping readers over the head with lessons to learn or messages to impart. I love a book with strong thematic currents but reading those kinds of stories can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. Envy manages to find a perfect balance. If a reader wants to just enjoy a good story, easy peasy. If a reader wants to think deeper and consider deeper thematic currents within the narrative, that’s certainly do-able too. Beeden brilliantly provides balance for every heavy, and every light. A jealous and vain suitor is offset by a genuine, loyal friend. Grasping ambition is foiled by contentment. The heroes are relatable and flawed. The villains are horrible and a joy to hate.
Krystle: I have to come back to the effortlessness of Beeden’s narrative voice. Like Whitney mentioned at the beginning, there’s something about Envy that makes you feel like Charlie truly is telling you the story, with glorious little asides that give it a natural rhythm without hampering the movement of the plot. By far one of my favourites:
Blind Watchem had told him after his encounter with the doorman of the First Inn, ‘every time you take a step up, you’ve got to learn how to avoid getting knocked down’. He’d also said that ‘you can chop a tree down, but you can’t stop a weed from growing’ which didn’t seem to help much, but it had been early afternoon so Blind Watchem was probably well on his way to being sozzled.
Whitney: The only criticism I have for this book is the choice of title and cover art. That said, I understand this is part of a series of standalones for Beeden and the goal is to match styles. Regardless, if the other books in the series are all this good, I won’t care what the covers look like or what the titles are. I’ll read them all.
Krystle: Well said. It’s with this enthusiasm that we both agree that Tim Beeden’s Envy deserves the coveted Semi-Finalist badge from the BWG team for SPFBO 8.