Tournament of Losers – Megan Derr

I believe I discovered Megan Derr’s writing through Smashwords – proof of the punchline of what was apparently Ronald Reagan’s favorite joke – “There must be a pony in here somewhere!” (And that was the first, and will probably be the last time Ronald Reagan is ever brought up in one of my reviews.)

There is a brightness, if you will, about Ms. Derr’s writing which makes it enjoyable to read about even a character with the abysmal luck of Rath. He is a young man in a beautifully realized fantasy city, trying to make a life for himself. However, his father, also known as the bane of his existence, keeps getting into debt, and the creditors keep coming to Rath for the money. This was a prevailing bother to me: I just don’t understand why Rath is held responsible for his father’s stupidity and tendency to borrow large amounts of money he’ll never be able to repay? If it were the other way around, I could understand loan sharks going to a father about what his son owed, but this was just jarring. The only answer I could come up with was that Rath knows that unpaid debts mean pain for his father, and eventually death if things escalate, and the crime lord holding the note knows that however difficult his father tends to be he doesn’t want him beaten, much less killed. Still, it drove me a little crazy that Rath’s life is turned inside out in order to redeem his father.

As the synopsis says, someone makes a mad suggestion: that Rath get himself into what they call the Tournament of Losers. The grand prize is marriage into a noble (or royal) family, but to Rath that is unimportant next to the fact that the stipend provided to contestants will pay off dad’s debt. He has no interest in more; he doesn’t want more. He just wants a status quo in which he doesn’t have to worry about being beaten to a pulp – or beaten to death. At least for a while. Of course, he very thoroughly does not get what he wants – but as the Stones said, maybe he gets what he needs.

The setting is both familiar and strange. On its surface it’s a fairly standard fantasy setting, well-outlined but unsurprising – until someone mentions a pregnant prince, or a very advanced brothel. It’s almost gender-blind.

I really enjoyed Rath’s sardonic point of view. (“The grounds had burned down two and a half times since they were first built, mostly due to drunken carelessness combined with too many overexcited idiots.”) Basically, I really enjoy Megan Derr’s writing.

“What’s a nightingale?”
“An irritating bird that people insist sounds pretty, but only people that have never actually heard them,” Tress said. “People like to import them to feel fancy, then immediately regret it.”
– I have to say, I was glad to read that; I’ve never heard a nightingale live, but I was pretty disappointed when I found a recording.

The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review. Thank you!

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