October 21, 2021

Dan Hanks: "Swashbucklers" (ARC Review)

Title: Swashbucklers [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Dan Hanks [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Urban Fantasy, Multiverse
Year: 2021
Age: 14+ (I shelved it as Adult because of the characters' age, but it can be read by teens)
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Funny and fresh take on the "band of accidental heroes saves the world" trope. Strong focus on friendship and lost childhood.
Cons: Amidst the action, there are patches of telling-not-showing. Not all the characters are equally developed. The open ending might not sit well with everyone.
Will appeal to: Those who are in for a fantasy quest steeped in '80s nostalgia, featuring a bunch of unlikely saviours...and a talking fox.

Blurb: When Cisco Collins returns to his home town thirty years after saving it from being swallowed by a hell mouth opened by an ancient pirate ghost, he realises that being a childhood hero isn't like it was in the movies. Especially when nobody remembers the heroic bits – even the friends who once fought alongside him. Struggling with single parenting and treated as bit of a joke, Cisco isn't really in the Christmas spirit like everyone else. A fact that's made worse by the tendrils of the pirate's powers creeping back into our world and people beginning to die in bizarre ways. With the help of a talking fox, an enchanted forest, a long-lost friend haunting his dreams, and some 80s video game consoles turned into weapons, Cisco must now convince his friends to once again help him save the day. Yet they quickly discover that being a ghostbusting hero is so much easier when you don't have schools runs, parent evenings, and nativity plays to attend. And even in the middle of a supernatural battle, you always need to bring snacks and wipes... (Amazon)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I requested this title on NetGalley and Edelweiss, and got approved for it on both sites. Thanks to Angry Robot for providing an ecopy. This didn't influence my review in any way.

RUSTED HEROES

Swashbucklers does for adult fiction what the Wayward Children series does for YA: it looks at the aftermath of a "typical" kid/teen character experience (in this case, saving our world - and possibly other ones - from monsters). Except, in Hanks' standalone, thirty years have gone by since our Goonies-meet-Ghostbusters gang defeated evil, and these former child heroes (all but one) have forgotten everything about it...or better, have managed to convince themselves that their saving the world wasn't real to begin with (it doesn't help that the rest of their hometown has resolutely fallen into we-just-hallucinated-because-of-a-gas-leak camp ever since). Until shit hits the fan again, and as adults on the wrong side of forty, they find themselves unfit to fulfill their old saviour roles, yet they can't seem to have a choice (or, in Cisco's case, they ultimately welcome the new adventure with open, if a bit shaking, arms). It's a brilliant, subversive concept, and to the best of my knowledge, a totally original one. It lends itself to nostalgia and humour, and provides an insight into the changes (or lack thereof) that childhood friendships undergo in a few decades - all juicy ingredients for a story. [...]

THOSE WERE THE DAYS

Swashbuckler makes use of a number of fantasy tropes (down to the talking animal who helps the main characters), but it does that in a fresh and/or endearing way. One of the reasons why the book works so well, though, is that there's a dash of "magical technology" woven into the story (the protagonists's old video game controllers, which work as weapons and bring a lot of fun to the table) and a healthy dose of '80s nerdiness (and don't worry, even if you weren't born yet in that era, you won't have any problem with getting your bearings, because classics are classics for a reason). I wish we got more flashbacks of the original characters' adventure as kids, but I realise that's not the story Hanks wants to tell here, and the ones we do get are functional to the narrative, so I'm not complaining.

BACK (AND) TO THE FUTURE

While I got a kick out of the story, I have to admit I needed a little more from the characters. Cisco is supposed to be our hero (if a bit out of shape 😂), but his childhood best friend Doc (short for Dorothy) steals the scene multiple times. I loved how Hanks put her in a same-sex marriage with another old friend, and how she can be a spouse and a mother while retaining her spunk and her ability to kick ass (despite middle age throwing a wrench into her gears). I also loved how her friendship with Cisco, despite their having grown apart in more than a way, only needs a little spark to get reignited. I was left wanting more from Jake and Michelle, but I understand that, while being part of the original gang, this is less their story than it is Cisco's (and even Doc's). There are also some moments that lean more towards telling than showing, but they aren't particularly heavy-handed, so the story still flows nicely.
The ending is bittersweet, but full of hope. One could say Cisco's journey comes full circle, except he's learned a lot about parenthood, courage and heroism, and he should now have the means to change the outcome of his life. Though I like open endings, there's a final scene with the rest of the gang that feels a bit too unresolved even for my liking, but the "real" ending is brilliant, if maybe not suited for those readers who need a more spelled-out one. In short, Swashbucklers is a fantasy-meets-nostalgia standalone with a fresh concept that will captivate nerds of all ages who can take an open ending in stride 🙂. 

For more Adult books click here.
For more Supernatural books click here.
For more Multiverse books click here.

16 comments:

  1. That sounds fun. I like the fun fact that the video game controllers also double as weapons.

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  2. This sounds like a fun one, though not sure if it's one for me because of all the 80s nostalgia I wouldn't connect with. I'm glad you liked it! I know it's set at Christmastime, would you say it's a Christmas book, or is that just kinda incidental?

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    1. Oh, but though the story has this nostalgia vibe, you wouldn't miss much by not having been a kid or teen in the '80s. It's absolutely readable by everyone. Also, there's a fun scene related to the holidays, and Christmas kind of lurks in the corners, but like the '80s references/vibes, it's not something that "makes" the book.

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  3. This sounds like a cool book, I love the Fantasy trope of animals helping humans, so I may check it out sometime. Once I have the chance. :D
    -Quinley

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    1. LOL, so many books, so little time. I get it.

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  4. I have read this once or twice (I wish I could remember the books lol) but it's rare enough to be a fun twist on things. And it's always great to see *ordinary* people fighting the big bad.

    Karen @For What It's Worth

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    1. Rare enough that I haven't read it before LOL.

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  5. "and as adults on the wrong side of forty," ha this sounds fun. Definitely unique. I like the idea of them years later having to do it all over again but having to deal with aging issues. And the open ending- sometimes I struggle with those although lately I seem to be tolerating them better?!?)

    Doc sounds fantastic.

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    1. The ending is open and definitely odd, but full of hope! I think this would work for you.

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  6. It always interests me to see old friendships examined. As you said, they grow and change along with the people in the relationship. Something sort of major unresolved would make me nuts, but if the rest of the book was good enough, I might forgive it.

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    1. I rarely get to have a glimpse of old friendships evolving in the books I'm drawn to, and it was interesting (though this particular book has a supernatural angle, so it might be different from the kind of childhood friendships you find in a contemporary).

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  7. This book sounds like a lot of fun! I love the idea that they have forgotten / convinced themselves that what they did as children wasn't real - it sounds really unique and like you said, like an interesting story. Great review, Roberta!

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    1. It's a different take than your usual amnesia one, and it does give a unique feel to the story. Thanks hon!

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  8. I did love the video game console blasters, that was a lot of fun! I had a great time despite my issues, and I am hoping for a sequel:-)

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    1. Those were fun indeed. It was an entertaining story, and sure we can condone some small flaws 😉.

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