The Viper and the Urchin can be wrapped up in a single word: fun.
If features common character types but manages to make them unique. The Viper is Longinus, introduced as the normal mysterious and deadly assassin…until you realize it’s all an act. He’s actually a cowardly assassin who uses poisons because of his fear of blood, which induces him to fits of cold sweats and vomiting. He’s at his wit’s end because another assassin is copying his signature style and butchering it. (pun slightly intended)
Then there is Rory, a street urchin with a kind heart and a sassy tongue, sort of like Aladdin. Only Rory is a girl. Scrawny but tough, she navigates the streets of Damsport with a partner of sorts who doesn’t exactly have her back. Rory is enraptured by the idea of becoming a master of the sword, inspired by an encounter with a deadly Scarred Woman from her past.
Naturally her path crosses with Longinus, whom she promptly blackmails after witnessing his reaction to a bloody scene. In exchange for her silence, he agrees to teach her swordsmanship. The unlikely partnership is tested by clashing personalities and the mystery of who has targeted Longinus, and Rory as a result. Their investigation uncovers not just a threat to themselves, but to the entire city as well.
There’s a lot to like about the story. The character of Longinus is genius, as I’ve never encountered a cowardly dandy as an assassin before. It breathes life in the grim, raspy-voiced archetype and provides a refreshingly different take. His constant fussing over clothes and poetic phrases never gets old, although he might pinch the bridge of his nose a bit too much.
Rory has more difficulty escaping the street-smart urchin stereotype, but that doesn’t make her character any less enjoyable. Although the ‘urchin’ bit threw me off a bit. I imagine ‘urchins’ to be children or preteens, and Rory is every bit of nineteen in the story. I had to re-imagine her at some point while reading, although that’s probably my fault, as there is a direct depiction of the character in the beautiful cover. Rory proves to be capable but not infallible, which I enjoyed.
One the best features of the book is the setting. Ms. Jeanjean takes great pains to create the city of Damsport, which pays off quite well. Detailed but not to the point of being distracting, the city comes alive to the reader, creating a unique backdrop that is just as much a part of the story as the characters.
This story is described as steampunk, but I found it to contain more elements of non-magic fantasy, although obligatory steam contraptions do make appearances. Definitely recommended!
When Bard Constantine isn’t consumed by pop culture, he writes gritty futures and far-flung fantasy. See more at bardwritesbooks.com