THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES (Volume 1) is a fun, fast-paced homage to geekdom in general. It managed to be both familiar and a breath of fresh air. Each story stands alone and weaves into the fabric of a well-realized setting, enjoyable characters, and tongue-in-cheek mashups of fantasy and science fiction.
Book Description (from Amazon)
Troll evictions! Dwarf pirates! Daring rescues! Angry gods! Impossible technology! Oversized bars! Pissed-off ogres! Disrespectful spaceships! All this and a mild disregard for proper wound treatment!
THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES, VOL. 1 is a novella-length collection of six short stories set in a common universe. Combining elements of space opera-style science fiction and high fantasy, THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES tell the adventures of Brazel, Rhundi, and Grond, a gnome/halfogre team of smugglers.
THE PLANET IT’S FARTHEST FROM: A simple job in a saloon goes poorly for Brazel.
THE CLOSET: Brazel and Grond are hired to teach someone why gambling can be a bad idea.
YANK: Dwarven pirates. ‘Nuff said.
REMEMBER: Brazel and Grond are hired by one of the galaxy’s most powerful people for a suspiciously easy job.
THE CONTRACT: Rhundi tries to get through a simple business negotiation without anyone being shot.
THE SIGIL: Brazel and Grond encounter something horrifying on a frozen rock in the middle of nowhere.
This is one of those books where I first liked the author, then liked the book. Mr. Siler has a great social media presence and he makes me laugh, so when I saw a book that included the phrase “space ogre,” I was intrigued. Then I saw “space gnome,” and I had to read it. It jumped my reading my reading queue, and I don’t regret it at all. THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES was exactly what I needed.
As Siler points out in the introduction, this book is inspired by the geek canon: Star Wars and Dungeons and Dragons. It taps into a long tradition of genre mashups, bringing a lot of classic fantasy tropes into an intergalactic setting. Basically, it’s fun. The writing is tight without being pretentious, which matches the book perfectly. After all, it’s a gnome pilot and thief, a half-ogre former gladiator with reading glasses, and a mouthy ship AI. High art this ain’t, but holy hell did I enjoy it.
And while the temptation might have run towards replacing magic with technology, this story resisted it and included BOTH. So it’s kind of like a two-for-one sale. The mashup was well done, always at least a little tongue in cheek, and was never anything less than well thought out. Clearly Siler has put a lot into the world building here, and I’m looking forward to reading more about the adventures of Brazel (gnome), Rhundi (gnome), and Grond (half-ogre).
The book is laid out as a series of loosely interconnected short stories of various lengths. Some are short and sweet, like an RPG side quest. Others have a little more meat to them and get into the setting a little more. More like a campaign run by DM with a sense of humor. Each follows the same kind of satisfying arcs we have all come to love in science fiction and fantasy. Again, it’s just a whole lot of fun.
As I’ve made pretty clear, I had a whole lot of fun with this collection of stories, so I have to play devil’s advocate.
Mostly, I think that those with high literature in mind should hop back in their spaceship, put their hyperdrive in gear, and head on out of the star system. These stories are written in homage to all things nerdy, but there’s nothing groundbreaking. Sure, it gives old characters and tropes a fresh spin, but it’s still action and adventure within a fairly comfortable set of parameters. There are no envelopes being pushed here.
Likewise, the stories are primarily plot driven, as opposed to the modern love affair with character-driven stories. That doesn’t mean that these characters aren’t well-developed and fully realized. They are fleshed out characters that suit the setting and genre perfectly. However, there is very little growth or change through these stories. It makes sense to me: these stories are more episodic than serial. But I like that. In an era of entertainment where television series are just an excuse to make a really, really long movie, it’s nice to get into something that is discretely and episodic. Not everyone will agree with me, however, so the less firm connection between these stories may put some readers off.
Who Is This Book For?
This book is for geeks. There’s no other way to put it. It’s a cross-genre romp that is just plain fun to read. Those who would most appreciate the book are Dungeons and Dragons fans, especially those who have dabbled a bit in the books and other media associated with the game. It would also help if a reader is a fan of both science fiction and fantasy, especially space operas and sword and sorcery.
It’s unlikely that real literati would enjoy this book as anything other than a diversion, however. One might accuse it of being overly simple and drawing too heavily from pre-existing material. While I don’t agree, I could also see how some might make the case that these stories are derivative and somehow lesser works. I’d also say that those people miss the point of these stories, which is entertainment and nothing else.
So if you’re looking for a light-hearted, fun series of stories in a well-constructed (but still recognizable) world, then check out THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES. If you’re looking for something that pushes creative boundaries and breaks new ground, then this probably isn’t a great book for you, or at least not yet.