My rating: 2 of 5 stars
If I was to say that Juggler’s Blade is like Push (movie starring Chris Evans)crossed with The Lies of Locke Lamora, I would mean only that the plot resonates with those two works. Ross’s Juggler’s Blade features a bunch of people who have ESP (extra-sensory perception), that have been graced with simple tags such as Prod, Press, Chill and Shade to describe their powers, who have gone underground and live in groups of 4 (each person in the group possessing one of the above powers), because they are being hunted by a small group of immortals known as the Heralds. If they are caught, they are forced to wear a collar that turns them into mindless slaves (as in the Sword of the Truth series by Terry Goodkind). They are known as the Accursed and the reason for their persecution is that there use of their abilities is somehow attracting lich-like creatures from the wastes.
What drew me to this book was that it explores the superhero mythos in a fantasy world, which resonates with my own Godsend story, and also the fact that the protagonist and his kind in principal are actually the bad guys, i.e. the Accursed use shadows as their source of power, their use of powers is drawing evil creatures that will wipe out humanity, and they live underground and steal from law-abiding citizens. The Heralds on the other hand have protected humanity for over a thousand years from both the undead and from being preyed upon by the Accursed, and the Heralds use light.
The story begins with Ian, a Juggler, who travels from inn to inn with his showman uncle, eking our an existence, until one night Ian unconsciously uses a previously latent ability to prod a skittle back into play. This use of power attracts the attention of Jolland, an old friend of Ian’s mother and a D’Natai (the actual name for the Accursed) who has dedicated her life to finding other D’Natai and putting them into hiding so that they can survive and learn to use their powers; and also attracts Isidore, a Herald whose job it is to hunt down the D’Natai. As Jolland helps them escape, the Herald catches up with them and slays Ian’s uncle. Jolland then takes Ian to the Capitol and places him with a cell of other D’natai known as the Spiders. Ian quickly learns that life in hiding is a lot more difficult than being a travelling showman. He also learns that Della, the leader of his pack, has something in common with him; the desire for revenge. Ian conspires with Della to strike back at the Heralds, only to discover a terrible secret that has been lost to the world for over a thousand years.
Characterisation is one of the strong points of this book, as Ross quickly establishes the personalities and foibles of the Spiders. However, I was a little under-inspired by the mundane name of main protagonist. Ian (not Iain, Eon, or even Eeyain) seems to have drawn the short straw with names, as even his pack mates have been given more memorable names. Overall the sentence structure is weak and poor formatting of the epub version makes this stand out even more. There is also a lot of info-dumping (i.e. telling instead of showing) and poor transitions between viewpoint characters. There seems to be an apparent lack of professional editing in this book and that has scuppered this book’s chances of standing a cut above the masses of poorly written books, which is a shame as the world-building is good (except for one shameless reference to an item that appears in the Da Vinci Code) and the overall plot isn’t bad either. It is for the latter two qualities that I have awarded the two stars out of five to this book.