“We solve the mystery of you.”
P.L. Stuart’s Review
Full disclosure, I read and provided an honest review for this book back in February 2022, when I read it for pleasure. I have since re-read it, and my opinion of this book holds.
The following review of “The Thirteenth Hour” by Trudie Skies below is for purposes of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) Number 8 competition in which this book is entered, and assigned to Before We Go Blog for judging.
The setting for “The Thirteenth Hour” is the city of Chime. Chime is one of the most unique settings you are ever going to find in a fantasy novel. In this epicentre, where differing cultures converge, there are 12 human races inhabiting the city, and each of those 12 races revere their own individual god. Chime is considered a free-city, and – ironically – safe zone from the 12 gods themselves, who are essentially barred from Chime.
But the reader will soon discover the so-called free citizens of Chime are not truly free at all. If one commits any actions contrary to the will of the gods while in Chime, punishment is severe, up to and including death.
The two main characters, Kayl and Quen, could not come from more opposite parts of Chime’s society. Kayl has abandoned the gods. She is a heathen, and she wants to protect other heathens from the gods she has forsaken.
“When one god’s demand of such heavy tithes of her own mortals and punished those who couldn’t afford to pay, the poorest had no choice but to run, to seek the only city where not even the gods could tread. That’s where my organization stepped in.”
In opposition to Kayl stands people like Quen, who is one of the powerful, uber-devout enforcers working for the gods in Chime, known as Wardens. Kayl refers to Wardens as “the gods’ mortal eyes.” Wardens are chosen from the 12 diverse societies that inhabit Chime, and they prevent those various societies from clashing with each other, and ensure the societies conform to the doctrines of the gods.
As a Warden, Quen is charged with chasing sinners, and ensuring they are punished for their transgressions against the gods. But Quen is a soul tormented by his past, and by his visions. For all his righteousness, his faith just might be undermined by the very gods that he clings to, that define who and what he is.
But Quen soon becomes aware of Kayl, who appears to be more than just a Vesper (originating from the domain of Eventide, a domain of glowing mushrooms, under control of the god of autumn, called Valeria). Kayl has special powers, and Quen is determined to uncover what those powers are. Says Quen to Kayl, about his overriding goal:
“We solve the mystery of you.”
Because the fate of Chime lies in the balance, and if the gods intervene, the results will be devastating.
Any book I give high praise to will have compelling themes that give me something to think about long after I have finished the book. Skies excels here, particularly with one of my favourite themes: religion. In the case of “The Thirteenth Hour”, Skies explores why humans are so attached to the worship of deities; why various deities are worshipped by one faction as opposed to another; what are the consequences of the sins of so-called apostasy and blasphemy against one’s gods to the psyche of the “sinner”; and are the gods worthy of human veneration in the first place?
As a character-driven reader, Skies was speaking my language. The main ones, and their supporting cast, are all wonderfully complicated, damaged, and hiding stuff from each other. Coming together, initially as natural foes, for a common cause, Kayl and Quen are characters the reader will become completely invested in. The passionate Kayl is nicely contrasted to the more austere and mysterious Quen.
But the scene stealing here goes to the cruel gods. My my, are they baddies. The reader will love to hate them, and what they subject their faithful human subjects to, just for sake of eccentricity, selfishness, greed, or simply the desire to be worshiped exclusively, is horrifying.
Finally, I’ve saved perhaps the best element of this marvellous book for last: the worldbuilding. Wow! Wow! Wow! The design and concept here are examples of some of the best fantasy has to offer. It is completely beguiling, absolutely bewitching. Twelve distinct domains, ruled by twelve distinct gods, who have their own demands, agendas, desires, and use humans as pawns. These gods, as the series title indicates, and I have already alluded to, are by no means benevolent. Capricious, selfish, foreboding gods ensnaring humans in their schemes (and the humans getting wise and against impossible odds trying to fight back) is a theme that will hook me every time, and it was so well done in “The Thirteenth Hour”.
“Varen understood the cruel whims of his god. That was the one reason why he risked associating with the Godless, to help us undermine her in the few petty ways that he could.”
But I digress into themes there, we’re talking about worldbuilding.
Some domains in the novel were cities of golden cathedrals, some were tropical islands, some were treacherous jungles. Others were desert, or observatories of stars, or frozen wastelands, or sky worlds made from floating airships, and MORE. Incredible. Each domain had a designated crossing time into Chime and, with 12 realms, bringing a special meaning to the eponymous Thirteenth Hour.
Then we have Chime itself. It’s a grim place, with plenty of poverty and despair, paired along with affluence. It’s a place where “sinners” are ruthlessly pursued by Wardens, the helpless and frail humans are at the mercy of the gods’ fancies, and chaos, desperation, and fear is cloaked in a fine veneer of urbane civility. A collision between worshipers of different gods is a constant threat, calamity always looms, and things are bound to eventually get complicated, bloody, and downright scary. Rest assured, it does.
The sheer scope of this, the uniqueness, the detail, and the ingenuity involved in creating all this, vaults Skies into my top 10 worldbuilders of any authors I have ever read. The lore and backstory is rich, intricate, and helps make this book a phenomenal read for fantasy lovers.
Told in my favourite first person perspective, from predominantly Kayl and Quen’s POVs, this novel may burn slow at the start (again the way I like it) but the action builds steadily. If you are looking for major battle set-pieces, look elsewhere. But if you are looking for startling conflict in a clash of beliefs, cultures, and manipulative gods, this is your book.
This was a book I truly wanted to savour, and found myself utterly disappointed once it was over, especially due to the exceptional characters, and that sumptuous, scrumptious worldbuilding.
I am recommending that “The Thirteenth Hour” advance to the semi-finals round for Before We Go Blog’s group of assigned books for SPFBO 8.
If I consider a book a five-star read, those are the books I will be recommending to be put forward for advancement to either a quarter-final, semi-final, or final round of SPFBO within Before We Go Blog.
For “The Thirteenth Hour,” my score is 5 out of 5 stars.
Jason @ Off the TBR’s Review
You ever see a book on a bookstore shelf or posted about online and without knowing anything about it or the author just know that’s a book you want to pick up and read after the very first encounter with it? No questions or hesitations? That’s kinda rhetorical because I’m guessing most of you if you love to read have felt this sensation at least once but it’s possible you haven’t. Well, today I want to rave a little about one such book.
This feeling doesn’t occur with me very often. Usually I need to see some hype about a book or author first, and if not I go into it with some reservations. But one day back in September/October I noticed a Twitter post from Trudie Skies about their book The Thirteenth Hour which was due to be published very soon. The cover is what I noticed right away (YES I JUDGE BOOKS BY THEIR COVER). The color, the imagery, even the script/font. Just take a look below and you’ll see what I mean. I jumped over to read the blurb and was like, “yep, I’m buying this one.” Something about it just made me feel like I would love it. I hadn’t seen the first review, or anyone else hyping it yet. But I felt confident I’d like it. I waited for the paperback version to be available because I wanted one for the shelf and then waited somewhat impatiently for it to arrive. When it did I got this beauty in the mailbox…
- Gaslamp fantasy
- Portal fantasy
- Steampunk vibes
- Gothic undetones
- Light and funny/dark and heavy
The Thirteenth Hour surpassed my expectations. And just to reiterate, I expected to love it.
I want to start by mentioning the worldbuilding. Trudie Skies has created a world made up of twelve different realms each ruled over by a different god, and populated by a unique people with powers and abilities unique to that realm. Some can hide in shadows, some can mesmerize, some can control light and fire, some can control time. Each realm exists in a pattern like a clock and at the center of them is a city called Chime which is neutral ground and where peoples of all realms can live and work. In Chime is a portal (a clock tower) that allows one to travel between realms but only twice a day, twelve hours apart, when the hand on the clock reaches that realms designated hour. Hence the portal fantasy element I note above.
Within this world and it’s realms all things and all peoples are not equal. The gods are indeed very cruel (hence the series title), and some peoples are treated as less than others. There’s oppression, abuse, and darkness. It isn’t just the gods who are cruel, but the people as well. There are have’s and have nots, and they are relegated to specific areas of the city. Worship of one’s god is expected and required and violators are punished. So when a group of “godless” hoping to address the plight of those in the undercity stirs up trouble just as a strange new threat to Chime is uncovered…well…things begin to get messy.
I hesitate to say more about the story details because I hate the idea I’ll include a spoiler. I’ll just mention what I loved about the book. The gaslamp fantasy with seampunk vibes is something I love. I don’t read a lot of this subgenre but I really tend to enjoy it. And Trudie Skies does it well. It isn’t overblown and heavy and nothing felt forced. It was dark and gritty and the mood and tone were just right.
I mention gothic undertones in my highlights section. This isn’t a gothic novel. Let me be clear about that. But, there are gothic elements imbued within it. Certain realms definitely have that feel (I’m looking at you Eventide). And while Kayl isn’t the chaste heroine of many a gothic tale she fits other elements. Again it’s not gothic by the numbers, but it isn’t grimdark or dark fantasy either. I just think gothic fits it better as a descriptor that anything else with all the associated vibes of that subgenre. And it definitely delivers on some of those themes.
The writing is also well done. The pacing is very balanced and shifts between the POV characters Kayl and Quen. Just enough is revealed each chapter to make you wonder what is going on, what will happen next, and to keep you turning those pages. Skies balances the heavy elements and tone with fun and light banter between characters. She also gives Kayl something of a childlike quality that shines through the all the darkness around the character.
But my favorite thing is the most basic thing…the story. All the other pieces serve the story well. A band of misfit “godless” who are fighting for better lives for everyone around them stir up the ire of the gods while a new threat to their world emerges. While everyone is vying to understand and get control of this threat things get out of hand and the very existence of the realms is in danger. Secrets about the characters’ past are revealed to themselves and others, and they fight to save not just their own souls and those of their friends, but the lives of everyone. Within all of this we get a story about love, and passion, and devotion that asks who deserves those things, whether required or a gift, and whether they can overcome divine powers set to control them. We get a story about faith and it’s application and focus. We get a story about living in spite of it all. Add a chunk of action and drama and you’ve got a great read.
I know I don’t gush well and I tend to be more technical than emotive in my reviews, but believe me when I say I loved this book. I hope you’ll give it a chance, and that you will love it too.
Note: This review appeared on Off the TBR previously, however Jason’s views of the novel have not changed.