I went into Shaun Paul Stevens Servant of the Lesser Good cold, as I do with all SPFBO books, and in retrospect, I kind of wish I had looked at the description first. I spent the first few chapters feeling like I was missing something. This isn’t abnormal for fantasy; there’s a certain level of acclimation that happens as the reader engages with the world, but I felt like I was missing colors in a palette instead of pieces to a puzzle. I only realized after reading the book that this is a companion novel to Stevens’ 2020 SPFBO entry Nether Light, which was a finalist. Had I read that first, perhaps I wouldn’t have had that missing feeling.
The story follows Mist, a young woman tasked with sabotaging the upcoming marriage of Mistress Talia to the Count of Brecht. Mistress Talia is preparing to play a particularly cursed symphony, while her daughter is something of a social pariah due to her visions of the future and devil-worshipping father. While the world feels right up my alley, I never connected with the main characters and so it all fell a bit flat for me.
I also feel compelled to state that the opening scene of the book might be triggering for some people as a young woman is restrained to a bed against her will and is left in peril…It made me feel uncomfortable and I’m not a squeamish reader. Do with that what you will.
Servant of the Lesser Good features some technically excellent writing. Apart from what I’ve mentioned above, I can’t fault the author’s ability to draw the reader into his world. This felt every bit as professional as I’ve come to expect from the very best of the SPFBO.
I will say I don’t see the comparisons to Sanderson, Hobb, or Rothfuss. To a small extent, I can see the similarities with V.E. Schwab and Neil Gaiman. The writing reminds me more of Peter McLean and Ed McDonald, which is absolutely not a bad thing as I adore the War for the Rose Throne books and the Raven’s Mark trilogy.
All in all, I enjoyed Servant of the Lesser Good, even if it didn’t immensely resonate with me. It was certainly an excellent entry point for me for SPFBO 8.