Sci-fi author and comic book creator Jon Del Arroz has been very prolific this past year-and-a-half . . . so prolific, he’s writing books faster than I can keep up with. I read and thoroughly enjoyed For Steam and Country: The Adventures of Baron Von Monocle 1, Del Arroz’s first foray into the world of steampunk. So far in 2018, he’s completed the trilogy, as well as offered a side story that takes place between books 1 and 2: Knight Training: A Rislandian Adventure. This is what we’re focusing on today.
Where the main Adventures of Baron Von Monocle trilogy is told from the perspective of Zaira Von Monocle, Knight Training puts us in the head of James Gentry as he participates in Rislandia’s war with the Wyranth Empire. We are first introduced to James, Zaira’s childhood friend, in For Steam and Country where invading Wyranth troops kill his parents. He eventually escapes with Zaira to the capital of Rislandia where he enrolls to train with Rislandia’s Knights of the Cyrstal Spire.
Knight Trainingpicks up with James continuing his rigorous training while Zaira is away on another adventure. In between his workouts and being shunned by the other trainees who envy his superior ability, James stumbles upon a traitorous knight from giving Rislandia’s military secrets to the enemy. And being a good patriot, James knows he can’t just sit idly by as this injustice continues.
Yes, Del Arroz is a Trump supporter, and openly so. Yes, his Twitter feed is full of dank memes and edgy humor. Yes, he’s involved in the ComicsGate fiasco. Yes, he’s a divisive guy. I’m going to focus here on his writing, and let you make up your mind as to whether his politics deters you from checking it out or not. I am admittedly a little biased because, in the interests of full disclosure, I know Jon relatively well and have interacted with him on a personal level, and most of what you hear about him isn’t true.
Now that that’s out of the way, how’s Knight Training? It’s fun! Much like For Steam and Country, Knight Training presents a big, colorful world full of action and adventure, good guys striving to stop scheming bad guys from doing dastardly things. Knight Training maintains For Steam and Country‘s swashbuckling flair–alas, not on an airship–as James, the young almost-knight journeyman Ethan, and two Rislandian soldiers Lansing and Fearson, use their swords, guns, and wits to thwart the traitorous plot.
I like that James is a very active character. He’s a self-starter. And he’s talented–and handsome–enough to have attracted the interest of Rislandia’s Princess Reina, who clearly expressed her interest in For Steam and Country . . . much to Zaira’s ire. I’m interested in seeing where this love triangle subplot goes because, as I’ve said before, I’m a sucker for romance.
My only real knock on Knight Training is James himself. I know I just said I liked the character, but he does seem to be a bit of a Mary Sue: Everything he does works out great, he was good at everything, all the authority figures commented on how good he is at stuff, and I never felt he was in danger of failing his mission.
James is, what, sixteen or seventeen? And he’s winning fights with full-grown men? I don’t know about that . . . This was somewhat present in For Steam and Country, but as that book focused on Zaira, it didn’t come to the fore. Here, as Knight Training is specifically about James, it’s unavoidable. But I suppose that’s par for the course when you’re going for bright, uplifting action/adventure. None of this ruined my suspension of disbelief, but it was noticeable, and I’m a picky bastard. Your mileage may vary.
Del Arroz is a very effective writer. His characters are fleshed out with enough detail that provides all you need to know without getting bogged down in paragraphs of description. I particularly liked how Lansing and Fearson weren’t throwaway stand-ins along for the ride as future cannon fodder–no redshirts here. You actually cared for the guys when everything hit the fan. And the world of Rislandia remains a bright, vibrant place that I’d like to visit myself. The Crystal Spire sounds like a breathtaking sight to behold.
If you enjoyed For Steam and Country, there’s really no reason for you not to pick up Knight Training. I’m looking forward to see how this dovetails into The Adventures of Baron Von Monocle 2, The Blood of Giants.
In general, if you’re in the market for a fun, fresh take on steampunk, check out this entire series. Hell, Del Arroz says he was inspired by the airships in Final Fantasy IV, and anyone who is inspired by Final Fantasy IV, or retro games in general, is a-okay in my book.
I told you I was biased.