Disclaimer: This is a review, and as such will contain opinions, spoilers and (often) general shit talking. (If you talk about what you don’t like about a work, you learn a lot. When you think through a work with the stakes presented to you by the creator, by the context of the work, you learn a lot. I review things, not because I love to dislike things, but because dislike contains rich and vital information for the process of experiencing something, but I cannot access it without interrogating it.) So, if you don’t want to have this thing spoiled for you, or don’t know how to behave when a person on the internet, that you don’t know, has opinions that don’t line up with yours, this review is not for you. It’s also not for the author/creator of the work. Please and thank you.

This is a great flintlock fantasy with a witty, and sometimes wise protagonist, who will steal your heart!

And maybe your roller. Or your identity.

Ardor Benn is no ordinary thief. Rakish, ambitious, and master of wildly complex heists, he styles himself a Ruse Artist Extraordinaire. When a priest hires him for the most daring ruse yet, Ardor knows he’ll need more than quick wit and sleight of hand. Assembling a dream team of forgers, disguisers, schemers, and thieves, he sets out to steal from the most powerful king the realm has ever known. But it soon becomes clear there’s more at stake than fame and glory – Ard and his team might just be the last hope for human civilization.

Book 1: “The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn”

The first book starts off with action right off the bat and it’s such a nice intro to Ardor and Raek.

Ardor is loveable straight off the bat!

I loved the constant shenanigans and scheming of a ruse artist who’s really good at what he does, but doesn’t know when to stop.

The unique magic system is based on grits, essentially dragon poop magic, was really fascinating (I would probably be a mixer if I lived in this world, debating ratios with Raek until sunrise).

Heavy on teaching you new terminology & principles in the beginning, but once you get a hang of the magic + start understanding the time concepts, it’s smooth sailing!

Book 2: “The Shattered Realm of Ardor Benn”

In a world with dragon-fuelled magic, master con artist Ardor Benn must infiltrate a centuries-old secret organization to find a missing royal heir. Ardor Benn saved civilization from imminent destruction, but his efforts brought war to the kingdom. It is believed that the rightful rulers have all been assassinated. However, a young heir might have survived. An ancient organization known as The Realm is behind the chaos, working from the shadows. Under the anonymity of masks, information is distributed sparingly.
Ard’s been hired to infiltrate them, but he’s got competition from an old friend. One who’s set to prove she’s better than the self-proclaimed “Ruse Artist Extraordinaire.” If Ard can’t find the heir then his world may again approach ruin. Stopping the complete and utter collapse of civilization is quickly becoming Ard’s specialty.

In the second book I loved to see Ardor starting to unravel, having to figure himself out in order to figure out how to act in the larger world.

His struggle is very relatable, and so is him failing to fully become the better he person he wishes he was as the stakes get higher and old habits just die hard.

Took me a hot minute to wrap my head fully around the time stuff, but even an old dog like me eventually caught up!

The world-building continues in leaps and bounds as we move deeper into the elements introduced in book one, and as the stakes rise to impossible heights, Ardor’s schemes get more and more elaborate – much to the frustration of his friends.

Book 3: “The Last Lies of Ardor Benn”

Ardor Benn has taken his lies to a new level, infiltrating high society so he can steal a priceless resource. But now that he’s on the inside, he finds himself poring through ancient texts, searching for answers to his deepest questions. He discovers something is coming. Something world-ending. Now, an old enemy is extorting him for one last job. Steal a live dragon. He doesn’t know how, and he doesn’t know why. But he’s got a feeling that it’s a job he has to take. Only problem is, Ard’s running short on time and shorter on lies. And his personal ambitions are alienating all of his allies. With no one else to rely on, he’ll have to trust the one person nobody else does: himself.

The book picks up some time after the events in book two, and it does a good job of tying up loose ends and completing the world-building arc started way back in book one.

It does have some of those quintessential Ardor Benn moments, including impossible heists and crazy plants that work out in the end.

I love that we visit some of the side characters from earlier narratives and that they get a pivotal role.

The main characters also get really nice developments leading up to the end.

I had to sit on the ending for a few weeks as I was trying to decide how I felt about it. And I’m still not 100% sure.

On one hand, it’s a classic Ardor Benn ending.

On the other hand, it was incredibly anti-climactic and feels like when you get to then end of the credits on a Marvel movie and they give you a little scene setting up the next thing.

But I don’t know if I’d want more Ardor Benn, despite loving him to bits.

When I think back on the series, I enjoyed the Ardor in book #1 the most, but as he grows as a person through the books, going back to that first version of him would be robbing him of his growth.

Having said that, I’ll pick up any other book that has Ardor Benn in it.

Did I enjoy it?

This whole series is heavy on the world-building and taking it all in is a considerable, yet enjoyable, task.

I did end up re-reading some bits as I was trying to figure it all out, and somewhere between book #2 and #3 I was wondering what else could possibly happen, since things seem pretty bleak already.

It’s heist after heist after heist, which is why I picked it up, but I did experience a certain kind of fatigue with the high stakes ratcheting up higher and higher throughout.

The world-building is epic in proportions and my mind had to jump through some pretty big hoops to finally grasp the whole time thing.

It’s very impressive, hat’s off to Tyler Whitesides.

If you like heists and action-packed, high-paced thieving, this is definitely one of the better things in fantasy.

Rapid-fire round:

  • Did the book meet your expectations? Yes, I went in expecting a con artist doing heists and it’s what I got.
  • Who was your favourite character in the book and why? Salafan and Mohdek, they were just trying to do right by the place they loved.
  • Who was your least favourite character in the book and why? I didn’t dislike anyone, but Raek definitely got the short end of the stick a lot – then again, he was probably overshadowed by Ardor Benn in life regularly, so why shouldn’t he be as a character? Also Ardor going back home and coming back a changed man seemed rushed.
  • Did you relate to any of the characters? Raek, getting through life with an impediment is hard.
  • What themes or messages did you take away from the book? People can change and people don’t always have to.
  • Was there anything in the book that surprised you or that you didn’t expect? The Glassminds and the whole Homeland thing.
  • What did you think of the ending of the book? It was classic Ardor Benn but very underwhelming.
  • What do you think the author’s intention was with the book? What message or theme do you think they were trying to convey? The whole time-construct was insane, but impressive.
  • Which part of the book did you find most memorable? Ardor Benn.
  • Did you find any aspects of the book confusing or unclear? Circular time, but I got there in the end.
  • Were there any moments in the book that made you emotional or had a strong impact on you? Salafan and Mohdek fighting for the dragons.

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