The Silk Map is Chris Willrich’s second adventure in the GAUNT AND BONE series. The poet and the thief, along with their bandit friend Snow Pine, are searching for their lost children, and this book takes them on a quest along an ancient trade route where they confront wonders, demons and their own fears.
Willrich has created a world based on ancient China, and the Spice Braid route that Gaunt and Bone follow is patterned on the Silk Road. Along this road, poet Persimmon Gaunt and her thief husband Imago Bone encounter enemy soldiers, greedy gate-keepers, undead Charwalkers, dragon horses, a mad monk and an incarnation of the Monkey God.
All the things that I loved about the first book The Scroll of Years show up again in The Silk Map. I love the world Willrich has invented. The dialogue and action sequences are snappy. Willrich creates believable women characters and takes time in between adventures to let his principals deal with themes of identity, trust and loss, especially that most devastating loss, the absence of a child.
Gaunt and Bone’s son Innocence and Snow Pine’s daughter A-Girl-is-a-Joy are alive, but trapped in a magical scroll. The heroes must find the scroll in order to release them. The Lady Monkey agrees to help them only if they will bring her something from the valley of the Iron Moths; only no one knows exactly where that is. The Silk Map is the only known artifact that leads to the valley.
Willrich introduces the Karvaks in this book, a nomadic society of horse-people and archers inspired by the Mongols. Two rival princesses add excitement and complication to the plot, which is already brimming with setbacks, narrow escapes, double and triple crosses and startling revelations.
The plot was a bit of a problem for me, especially where the character called Deadfall was involved. Deadfall appears without much explanation in Gaunt and Bone’s camp. Later, Deadfall provides a vital object to an adversary in a deus-ex-machina way. That said, Deadfall is one of the most interesting new characters introduced into the story.
The technique of storytelling within storytelling used in the book is nice but it does slow the book down. All of the stories are really clues, tying into the main tale, but each one pulls us away, just a bit, from Snow Pine, Gaunt and Bone.
That is a nit, not even serious enough to rate as a quibble. Snow Pine and Gaunt both grow in this book, and that was wonderful to see. The writing is smooth, often funny, and the inclusion of Gaunt’s poetry adds a lovely burnish to this fun read.