So the eponymous protagonist of Walter Jon Williams’ Quillifer is the son of a butcher, a lawyer by training, and I’m fighting really hard not to describe him as “young, scrappy, and hungry,” but he pretty much is. Like Hamilton (or Miles Vorkosigan, for that matter), he’s one of those high-energy, smartest-person-in-the-room characters who excels at both getting into and out of trouble.
And there’s plenty of trouble to be gotten in here, because Quillifer is pretty much a straight picaresque; he careens from episode to episode in his efforts to gain wealth and power, and the world in which he’s careening is basically early modern Europe—you know: gunpowder, printing presses, galleons, but also monarchs and guilds—except that it is a fantasy, so it may well be that some of the gods and magic are real.
Quillifer is a fun character to hang around with, and his adventures—political, military, naval, and otherwise—make for an absorbing read. My biggest complaint with the book is that it is just a series of episodes. There’s no real larger arc to the story other than “here’s a bunch of stuff that happened to a guy.”
But it turns out that this is almost certainly because this isn’t the standalone book I thought it was; it’s intended to be the first in a multi-book series, so the full story arc will become visible over the course of the series. So I guess my real biggest complaint is that I accidentally started an unfinished fantasy series, sigh. I do think it ends satisfyingly, though—all the episodes are basically wrapped up, and a phase of his life is sort of over, so it’s not leaving you completely dangling until the next book is published.
Recommended for anyone who enjoys hyper-competent smartasses having fun adventures in early-modern fantasy Europe.