Beggar’s Rebellion follows two principal characters. The first, Ella, is a woman born into the Councilate who has taken to working as an unlicensed calculator, or accountant, as a means to support herself and to escape her past. By comparison, Tai is a young man living in the newest occupied territory of Ayugen, chafing under the Councilate’s rules and desperately doing all he can to provide for a gaggle of children under his protection.
Equal time is devoted to each character, each exploring aspects of the Councilate’s rule. Ella, once revealed to be working illegally goes from being blackmailed into indentured servitude to using the Councilate’s legal system against her former captor. Her chapters showcase the new rule of law the Councilate is eager to enforce and the political infighting between the powerful Houses that seek to profit from the new territory. Meanwhile, Tai becomes increasingly involved with the Ayugen resistance, striking out at those same Houses in an effort to make the occupation too expensive to maintain. He gets to see the effects of the Councilate’s takeover, with native citizens often pushed into dangerous jobs or packed into camps if they resist too much. It’s hard not to draw real-words comparisons with some of the things experienced by both.
There are two preternatural aspects of the world common to both storylines. The main characters, and others, have voices in their heads; sometimes the voice of someone they have known. The voices act alternately as advisers and reminders of guilt, equally helping and hindering. One thing that I particularly liked about this is that a definitive answer is never given for exactly what the voices are; different cultures have different ideas about their nature and how to cope with them.
The voices are also linked in some way to the resonance and the powers it allows access to. There are a number of things to like about the magic system depicted in this story. From the way certain food boosts a character’s reserves, to the way some gain greater access to their abilities through struggle against their inner voices, to the variety of powers on display. The descriptions of how the powers can work are very well done and distinct enough to keep them fresh and interesting, especially when the resistance begin using them in co-ordination.
There are plenty of action beats throughout the novel, primarily in Tai’s chapters although Ella does get her chance to fight as well. But underpinning it is a question; can a populace overthrow their oppressors without either losing the identity they seek to preserve or becoming as vicious as they perceive their enemy to be?
To its credit, Beggar’s Rebellion doesn’t give any easy answers.
SPFBO Score: 8.5 out of 10