About the Book
When the saints fail, the sinners step up.
Cruel gods rule the steam-powered city of Chime, demanding worship and tribute from their mortal subjects. Kayl lost her faith in them long ago, and now seeks to protect vulnerable and downtrodden mortals from their gods’ whims. But when Kayl discovers powers that she didn’t know she had—and destroys a mortal’s soul by accident—she becomes Chime’s most wanted.
Quen’s job was to pursue sinners, until the visions started. Haunted by foreboding images of his beloved city’s destruction, Quen hunts soul-sucking creatures made of aether who prey on its citizens—and Kayl is his number one target.
To ensure Chime’s future, Kayl and Quen must discover the truth of Kayl’s divine abilities before the gods take matters into their own hands.
For a city that bows to cruel gods, it’ll take godless heathens to save it.
535 pages (paperback)
Published on October 13, 2021
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This book was sent by the author in exchange for an honest review.
There are some people in the world I want to succeed purely because I think they are good humans who deserve wonderful things in their life. Trudie Skies is one of those people. This made the reading of her book kind of awkward. I want her to do so well, because I genuinely feel like she deserves success, so what if I read this book and hate it? What then?
So, as with most books that I straddle this particular line on, I put off reading it. And then I read it in fits and starts, constantly anticipating something to happen that would ruin the entire experience for me, because isn’t that how life works? You want good things to happen, and the skies pour mud.
It is with great relief that I can tell you, that never happened. This book started out, charming me to bits, and ended with me reeling and almost aggressively wanting more. There was never a moment when The Thirteenth Hour was anything less than superb.
The first thing I noticed was the worldbuilding, which really deserves a review all on its own. Set in a truly complex world, I was amazed by how much thought and insight went into its crafting. No detail was overlooked. It took a bit of time for me to gather my bearings due to said complexities, but I didn’t honestly mind this in the least. I never felt overly confused or lost in information. Rather, this was a place I didn’t understand, and I wanted to understand it. Different realms ruled by different gods and inhabited by different people with different rules all clash together to create something truly unforgettable.
What’s more, Skies’s writing is fluid and careful, staying light and humorous in the right places and somber when needed. Her thoughtful use of words allowed the world to unfold naturally. Gaslamp fantasy with some steampunk-ish minor elements, this book straddles a few lines, and never fully adheres to any one category, which is something I love. Perhaps it is this element of balance which really makes The Thirteenth Hour shine so bright. There is a lot happening in this book. The worldbuilding alone made my head spin (it’s really amazing) and yet Skies kept everything perfectly balanced. Information is offered in easy to digest bites at the perfect moments. Details are given when they are most relevant, and then there is time to let it all sink in and gel in your mind as you read. Yes, it is complex, but Skies balances complexity, plot, and characters perfectly, which combined to make this world something I wanted to explore and study.
Chime is an amazing place, and the perfect setting for this book. Here, you get a taste of all the domains. Chime is a place the gods cannot tread. That gives it a sort of tug-and-pull feel, where there’s an intoxicating (and sometimes uncomfortable) clash of cultures, and yet it’s one step removed from the truly terrifying power players. Influence is important, and it is felt everywhere. An ominous feeling sort of crept up on me as the book progressed, as I could see strings being pulled by unseen puppet masters, and while some of them are easy to guess, there’s an ambiguity there as well, which only served to heighten the tension.
The Thirteenth Hour is told through two first-person perspectives. I’m a big sucker for first person POVs. I love how they allow me to get into a character’s head, but when you write with more than one first-person POV, it’s important to be able to keep the voices distinct so there’s no confusion. It’s always a risk, and I feel like Skies did a great job here. Kayl and Quen are easy to tell apart, with unique voices and traits. Perhaps the thing that I loved the most about them was how real they were. Kayl forgets everyone’s name and is always late. Quen is kind of dorky but in a really loveable way. They both were so real, I felt like they could hop right out of the book and visit with me in my living room. My attachment to them, my relationship with their quirks, made me care so much about them. It invested me in the story. I wasn’t reading about interesting characters, I was experiencing these events along with two friends. Skies ability to transport me from reading a book to experiencing a story is truly masterful, and it is owed, in large part, to her realistic, carefully crafted characters.
The Thirteenth Hour is one of those books that starts out small and gets bigger as things progress. The atmosphere gets more ominous, the characters risk more, lose more, want more. There’s a sort of caper-like vibe to it, but not quite. Again, this book seems to straddle a bunch of lines, never quite being one thing, but rather being the best part of a whole bunch of different things. There are alliances and betrayals, antagonists, and uncomfortable moral quandaries. The surface-level story is gripping and absorbing, extremely hard to put down, and I dare you not to enjoy it. There’s dark moments and light, and plenty of tea and British humor that really round things out nicely… but there were deeper themes here as well, and Skies ability to play on both levels—surface and deeper—truly delighted me.
Free will is an important concept in this book, and it can both be limiting and liberating. Skies plays with this idea throughout, in some surprising ways. While there are some truly reprehensible characters in this book, the theme of free will, the puppet master vibe I mentioned above, the very world itself all work together to humanize even the characters I ended up loathing. There are some I never liked, and never will like, and that’s fine because that’s how it’s supposed to be, but even then, through the “free will” lens that Skies crafted, they are somewhat human, and that makes them, in their own way, tragedies.
And yeah, I love stuff like that.
So where does that leave us?
The Thirteenth Hour blew me away. Phenomenal worldbuilding, stunning prose, attention to detail, characters I love, and numerous layers to the story all work together to create one of those gems that I want everyone to read.