(light spoilers, maybe, if you didn't read the book's synopsis)
I first found out about this novel when I heard that Patrick Weekes was publishing a novel through other fandom communities online. If you're a gamer or computer RPG fan, you may already know his name. Weekes was one of the writers on Bioware's Mass Effect
sci-fi RPG series, and he was also a very vocal fan advocate during the kerfluffle over the ending of Mass Effect 3. I figured I would have to check the book out sometime just to support an awesome guy.
And then I read the synopsis of the book.
This book, basically, could have been written on commission for me.
At it's heart, The Palace Job is a heist story, with all the tropes that entails: a Robin Hood type hero (well, heroine in this case), planning a heist for great justice from an evil man in power. Our heroine, Loch, is a tough, dark-skinned woman who is thankfully not depicted as any less of a woman for being a warrior. The story includes themes of friendship, family, loyalty, betrayal, revenge, all with clever plot twists, a little bit of romance, and swashbuckling adventure in heaps.
Seriously, you guys. This is almost everything I love in fantasy fiction, and all in one package.
The setting is a fantastic world with elements of both traditional and 'steampunk' fantasy, including magical airships and an unusual magic system which feels more technological than magical. The world-building is subtle and doesn't hit you over the head with long passages of exposition, which I quite liked. You learn about the world by seeing it through the eyes of the characters.
Oh, and the characters! Ocean's Eleven-style, Loch assembles a motley crew to help her on her mission, including a unicorn, a death priestess with a talking war hammer, and a clueless farm boy who is, of course, destined for greatness. I found all the characters very enjoyable with fun quirks, and decently well-developed for a short novel. The writing style, including dialogue, was very modern and colloquial; occasionally I thought some of the dialogue felt a little too modern for the setting, but I figured it was my own fantasy preconceptions and it never really threw me out of the story. Weekes has no trouble balancing all the balls he throws into the air, and I never once felt lost amid the large cast of characters and intricate plotting.
The tone of the book is often humorous, but the book is satirical more than it is silly, and it doesn't make light of the very real dangers to our team of criminals. Weekes not only takes a satirical jab at racism through Loch and her companion Kail, who are both part of a maligned racial minority fighting for equal rights, he also takes a poke at politics, in particular U.S. politics.
The United States' two-party government system has an equivalent in the book's Republic, with the Learned party versus the Skilled party. And those race issues I mentioned are also all tied up in the party politics as well. I particular enjoyed that the people of the Republic are apparently kept up on politics by the use of puppet shows reminiscent of "Punch and Judy" -- in which a gryphon representing one of the parties and a manticore representing the other are kept in check by a 'neutral' dragon moderator, ending with the tag line "it's your Republic". Very clever, tongue-in-cheek, and an amusing commentary on political reporting in the U.S., I thought.
Was it perfect? No. As I said earlier, occasionally the modern dialogue would throw me off, and it is a fairly short novel which means Weekes has to cram a lot of character development and plot twists into 300-some-odd pages. However, I loved it a lot, and I would proudly shove this book into the hands of as many people will listen to me go on about it.