Poker Kingdom I: The smile of the harlequin has a really original premise. Set in a land named Poker, it is divided into four kingdoms: hearts, clubs, spades and diamonds. Each kingdom contains within it an Element of great power (earth, air, fire, water). It’s opening line is pretty great too – “You’ll find no greater honesty than in a crowd of drunks.” That’s the sort of fantasy I can get behind, for sure.
The story equally follows Odin (not the Norse god), a… shapeshifter? (He can look like other people at least. He’s some sort of magical.) and several groups of other characters. Odin is after the Elements, the other groups are trying to defend the Elements and prevent Odin and his band of thieves and mercenaries from getting their hands on them.
Unfortunately, my expectations were set up only to be dashed. PKI is the right story for an epic fantasy, but condensed far too much to be truly memorable or enjoyable. It’s only about 140 pages long, and it has so much potential, and I really wanted to like it, but it was just too confusing. We’re introduced to a huge amount of characters in just the first few pages of the book, and the whirlwind pace barely lets up right through to the end. Characters do things, say things, decide things, reject things and go places in such a dizzyingly quick succession that I honestly could not give you a defining feature for any one of them beyond some half-remembered names and traits.
The climax is suitably climactic, and there is a rather nifty twist, but seeing as how I could only remember Odin off the top of my head due to how underdeveloped the book is, I’m afraid I can only give it 2 out of 5 stars.
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