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Review: American Craftsmen by Tom Doyle

By / May 4, 2014 / no comments

American Craftsmen was an interesting read, and exceeded my expectations. The cover is awful and the blurb tells you a whole bunch of names and is confusing. So I will make up my own hopefully less confusing one. The American army is aided in its effort to protect itself from bad things and bad people by a contract made with families of magical power. These magical army people and their descendants are called craftsmen. Something bad happens to two craftsmen whose hatred of each others family runs deep. Can these two battle their personal demons to do what needs to be done to protect America? I am allowed to write the blurb like that because I have no vested interest in your decision to by it. I do think it is a less confusing blurb though and may help you decide if the book is for you.

It may also help if you understand this book is part magical guy running around trying save people with his willy wits and part special ops adventure. I happen to like both of these things, although I don’t often read military fiction anymore, and I was more into the history/reality of war. So I will warn you if you don’t really like military/special ops kind of stories this isn’t really for you. There is a lot of following orders, military traditions and it is all pretty realistic. Even down to the discussion of PTSD, which I found refreshing as it is something a close family member suffers from and sound be discussed opening and frequently.

The magic part of the story was very interesting.  Doyle created an intriguing backstory, with each family having a specialty magic. I especially love how the ancestors played a significant role in the events of the novel. In fact one of my favourite characters was a dead relative of the main character. Each battle includes magic and it is pretty kick arse. I like that the main characters are comfortable in their use of magic and there is no developing their skill. I am over that developing magic, oops not using it right, coming of age stuff.

I loved the snippets of alternative American history with the magical families helping some iconic leaders and making huge differences in well known battles during the civil war. The almost constant action and adventure worked really well for me as well as the story line incorporating different view points. I think the story could been cut back to increase and maintain suspense. The relationship that develops in the novel is better than some I’ve seen but still lacks realism. The final stand off wasn’t very good, it was just so not as epic as I thought it would be, there was so many more interesting and suspenseful battles before this scene.

I enjoyed it and will be reading the next one when it comes out .. if I hear about it (really need to develop a system for that) but recognise this is a pretty niche in the fantasy market.

3.25/5 from me (Danica)!

——————–

American Craftsmen is Tom Doyle’s debut novel and it’s a quick and enjoyable read. It’s probably best technically classified as urban fantasy since it takes place in the modern world in a handful of real locations.

The premise is that the US military has — in secret — used practitioners of magic (here, called Craftsmen) to alter the course of wars. Craft is the simple alteration of probabilities. Of many options, some will be unlikely, but a Craftsman can tilt events towards the unlikely options. Some practitioners also see, talk to, and command ghosts and spirits; Craft can also be used to heal. No practitioner has strengths in every area.

I like that Doyle has incorporated real historical events into his work; Craft was used in the Civil War, in the Normandy invasion, etc. The outcomes are still the same, but Doyle plays with the reasons behind the outcomes. I think it’s cleverly done and adds depth to the story.

We meet our main protagonist, Dale Morton, as he’s about to embark on a mission to take on an enemy Craftsman. Instructions change at the last minute and things go horribly wrong. Dale then sets out to figure out what happened. Joining him on his quest are Scherie, a woman of Persian extraction, and Roman, a Ukranian acquaintance of Dale’s. Dale’s father and paternal grandfather appear as ghosts.

Tom Doyle

Opposing our heroes is Michael Endicott, another Craftsman officer. The Mortons and the Endicotts are historical enemies — dating back to the earliest British colonies in North America — though both families have served in the Craft units of the military for generations. It’s not just a simple rivalry; the Endicotts are strongly religious (Christian) and the Mortons are not, their founder having taken Native American wives and embraced Native American beliefs.

Further, one branch of the Mortons went very bad (they’re referred to as Left-Hand Mortons in the book) and others stayed good (or Right-Hand). But the Right-Hand Mortons (including Dale) can’t quite shake the guilt by association. Both the Mortons and the Endicotts are intensely patriotic.

Odd behavior on the part of some of Endicott’s superiors at the Pentagon causes him to question his orders. He ends up doing some investigating of his own.

The pace is quick, with lots of action and very little filler. The only thing that *might* qualify as filler is when Dale’s family home is described for the first time. However, it’s interesting from a worldbuilding perspective, and several key elements are introduced in this scene that will be important to the plot later on.

On to the characters. I definitely found myself rooting for Dale. He has a bit of a hero complex, but it’s not too annoying. And he IS willing to accept help. I wouldn’t call him static, because his situation and outlook change during the course of the book, but it’s Endicott who has the biggest transformation. Endicott comes across as a little stuck up — and definitely too self-assured — at first, but he’s forced to confront some uncomfortable facts about his family’s past; he becomes much more sympathetic as the book goes on. I started to root for him, too. Scherie’s own transformation is forced upon her, but she has found strength to match her ideals by the end of the book. I was pleased that Dale and Endicott, who both had essentially the same occupation at the beginning of the book, were not the same type of person.

If I had any criticisms, they’d be that the overall story arc was somewhat familiar from other books in the genre, and that one particular plot device was used too often (after you’ve spent some time with the characters Sphinx and the Appalachian, you’ll see what I mean).

The writing faded into the background and did the job of telling the story without interfering. Mr. Doyle and his editor paid careful attention to detail, and it shows. Note: there were quite a few four-letter words. This wasn’t a problem for me — it fit with the setting and the nature of the characters. Dale’s scenes were in first person and other scenes were in third person POV.

At any rate, I finished American Craftsmen quickly despite not having a lot of time to read lately — I was interested enough to keep picking it up. I didn’t see the epilogue coming, although thinking back, the clues were definitely planted at appropriate times. I’m looking forward to the sequel.

There’s an appendix at the end where we read a short account of the founding of the Morton family; the details here and in the main text speak to the depth of the worldbuilding, but I think it would also be fun to read some prequels.

 

Review written by Sneaky Burrito for BestFantasyBooks.com

About the author

Ben

Blog editor, admin and founder of BestFantasyBooks.comYou'll find me on the BestFantasyBook forums and spending my spare time reading fantasy books and writing lists for this site. In fact, I have no spare time -- running this site IS my spare time!

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