Title: Apple Boy (The Quiet Work #1)
Author: Isobel Starling
Publisher: Decent Fellows Press
Release Date: February 15, 2019
Genre(s): Fantasy, Magic
Page Count: 556 Pages
Reviewed by: ColinJ
Heat Level: 4 flames out of 5
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
After a traumatic event, Winter Aeling finds himself destitute and penniless in the backwater town of Mallowick. He needs to travel to the city of Serein and impart grave news that will bring war to the Empire, but without a horse, money, and with not a soul willing to help him, he has no choice but to line up with the common folk seeking paid work on the harvest.
As wagons roll into the market square and farmers choose day laborers, Winter is singled out for abuse by a brute of a farmer. The only man who stands up for him is the farmer’s beguiling son, Adam, and on locking eyes with the swarthy young man Winter feels the immediate spark of attraction.
Winter soon realizes there is a reason he has been drawn to Blackdown Farm. The farmer possesses a precious item that was stolen long ago from Winter’s family, and he determines to retrieve it. He also cannot take his eyes off the farmer’s son, and as the young man opens up Winter can’t help wondering if Adam is just kind or his kind!
This story is told in the first person and reflects the experiences of a young man. It is one of those tales that have to be read all the way through to appreciate it. Certainly, in its early stages, there is nothing particularly noteworthy to hold the reader. Characterisation is probably the weakest part of the book. The individuals are interesting and identifiable with a clear context and background, sadly their thought processes and actions lack credibility. Characters display emotions that do not make a lot of sense in the context of the scene and mood swings are very common. The reader often starts to empathise with a character and then they do, say or think something that is frustrating only to have it swept away within a few sentences. This is indicative of the plot as a whole. There are points of tension and these increase as the book progresses, but this is a tale where potential problems are resolved far too easily, which undermines its credibility. Such a writing style seems to be common with some authors of young adult literature, as though such readers are incapable of dealing with anything more than superficial tension.
The world building of the story is detailed and the author goes to some pains to provide an appropriate level of detail, from a high-level mapping of the world that contextualises the characters and their movement down to fine details. The magic system develops as it is slowly exposed through the story. Given that the central character is unfamiliar with magic, its revelation is accidental. As with other aspects of characterisation, whilst there is the potential for things to go very wrong, it never seems to do so. In fact, there is a sense in which the magic system acts to seek out and protect the central characters.
The apple boy of the title is the object of affection for the central character. The story is largely about the development of their relationship. As the central character is experience and the apple boy naive their feelings are dragged out by delicate feelings, which seem far too mature for horny youngsters. It is a foregone conclusion that they will come together, but the interesting thing is how this is achieved through other aspects of the plot. Sex is limited but explicit. The descriptions are reasonably accurate given the experience levels of the characters.
As noted, the story could be seen to drag during its early stages. However, the second half of the book has much more happing with interesting plot twists and ideas built on the importance of magic. The growing number of points of tension increases the pace considerably, but as these remain lightweight it can make the second half of the book feel rushed.
The end of the book is nearly a cliffhanger. Certainly, the stage is set for the next book and there is much to look forward to. It is just to be hoped that now the naivety is out of the way the story will get a little heavier.