Book Review: The Censor’s Hand

the censor's hand

Title: The Censor’s Hand (Book One of the Thrice-Crossed Swords Trilogy)
 A. M. Steiner
Genre: Fantasy
Version: ARC (eBook)
Page Count: 502
Publisher: Ptolemy Publishing UK
Synopsis: GoodReads
Notable Notables: Strong world-building, thought-provoking
Recommended Readers: Fans of high fantasy, philosophy
Rating: ★★★☆☆

I downloaded a copy of this book from NetGalley a few months after the publication date. It’s technically an ARC, just not an “advanced from the author/publisher” one. Regardless, the review that follows is my honest and true opinion.

The Censor’s Hand is the first book of the Thrice-Crossed Swords trilogy, an adult fantasy that veers towards the philosophical. I chose it because it’s a little different from what I usually read, but it still sounded promising.

In this fictional world, magic is harnessed via masters of the Honorable Company of Cunning and sold to whoever can afford it, their headquarters located on the island of the Convergence. After a censor, a guardian of justice, is discovered murdered there, a discreet investigation is launched to find the true culprit.

The book follows three POVs. Daniel, a censor-in-training, hopes to land himself a better life and become qualified enough to do the right thing, protecting his home from street gangs and Freemen, a group of terrorists/dissenters protesting the current society. John, Daniel’s brother, is down on his luck, owning a mill falling into ruin after the Company diverted the wind, making the mill’s sails no longer turn. Miranda is an adoptive ward of the Duchess, seeking to be the first woman to ever be accepted into the Company and made a master.

Each of these characters has their own obstacles to overcome. Daniel fails his censor test but is given a second chance to go undercover at the Convergence and solve the murder. Miranda, while accepted to the Convergence, faces sexual discrimination at nearly every turn, despite her natural talent and cunning mind. John makes a desperate move to save his mill, putting himself in debt with gangsters and accidentally allying himself with the Freemen, something his pious, law-abiding moral center vehemently rebels against.

Unfortunately, I found it difficult to get truly immersed into the story. I only really liked Daniel and another censor, Corbin, consistently. John’s situation was sympathetic once it spiraled more and more out of control, but his opening actions were solely his own fault and his sanctimonious attitude got tiring after a while. Miranda was compelling at first. I enjoyed the fact that she was equal parts confident and arrogant, with the talent to back it up, but I grew to hate how she treated servants or anybody “lessor” than her with typical noble disdain. She also can’t stand to be outsmarted or made a fool of, proving she can dish it out but she can’t take it herself.

Though there was nothing wrong with the writing and I liked A. M. Steiner’s style well enough, the story itself didn’t make me come alive with wonder like fantasy usually does. I didn’t hate it—in fact, Steiner had a lot of good points he made about the dangers of unfettered ambition, how “the little man” often gets abandoned in the wake of progress, the desperation that people can be driven to when their options are limited, how politics can overshadow what’s true and what’s false—but I didn’t love it. A little too dry for my tastes.

I’m not certain whether I’ll continue the series to see if it gets more interesting. That’ll depend on what the second book is about, and how I’ll feel more than anything. As I said, there was nothing wrong with the writing itself, more of what story the writing was choosing to tell and how it was telling it. Though it was middle-of-the-road for me, others may find the messages inside The Censor’s Hand to be truly compelling and thought-provoking.

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