Imagine choosing to make a stand against hopeless odds because of an article of clothing. Sounds absurd, doesn't it....but Reiss makes it work brilliantly as a metaphor for the sometimes mundane reasons people fight. A rollicking fantasy adventure with epic implications, Sunset Mantle is one of my favorite books of the year.
Cete is a veteran mercenary with a strict sense of honor, but that is actually part of the world building, which I'll get to in a second. Cete's bravery, loyalty to his men and honor get him in trouble, a redundant theme in fantasy today. Call it the Ned Stark effect. But where Ned was consciously making his decisions, Cete didn't but still suffered the consequences of his action. Cete is a great character that stands out among some cardboard characters. He's well rounded with a deep history that's sketched out to where it's not overwhelming but given to us in nice, bite-sized chunks. His relationship with Marelle is sweet and well done. Her strength is what drives Cete and changes him in very subtle ways. The other characters aren't as well drawn and a little cardboard-y, but it almost feels a necessity for something at novella length and it works. We get enough about the stock characters to round them out enough to make them interesting even though we recognize them as stock characters.
The plot is well done. Nothing terribly creative but the writing is sharp, descriptive without being overbearing so it was a very quick, rollicking read that reminded me of a old fashioned sword and sorcery story, minus the sword and sorcery. Reiss has used the tropes of a "last stand" story with deft skill . A lesser writer would've fallen into cliche but not once does the story cross over.
The worldbuilding is great. Like WILDEEPS before it, I want more of this world. There's enough built into the world for there to be plenty more stories. It was a little confusing at time with armies, tribes militias, etc, but there was enough to muddle through without slowing down too much. The colonial motifs were interesting and again made me feeling like I wanted more. There is a blank slate to the world, so to speak, culturally, that lets the reader decide what these characters might look like that I really enjoyed. I kept imagining Idris Elba as Cete as I read.
Tor.com Publishing is nailing it and I'm all in on these books.