Seriously, ridiculously enjoyable–I’ve found my new favorite MUF (Carly’s phrase for male urban fantasy). I’ve been buried in the Markhat series for the last couple of days, pulled away when required to do those annoying biological things (and the economic things to support them) and have finally come up for air to jot a few thoughts down.
Markhat is a Finder, a private detective who lives on the slum side of the Brown River. Missus Hog is his nearby neighbor, a fortune-telling witch with a habit of waving dead birds around. Markhat displays my own finely tuned relationship with authority, namely, it’s fun to poke with a stick right up until it pokes back; this time Mama pokes back by dumping an apprentice on him, a great niece straight from the farm. The day Gertriss starts her new job, an eccentric client appears, a noblewoman who runs an artist’s colony on her estate. Someone’s been leaving surveying rods around her estate, and she’s concerned it may be a plot to take her House or her land. Before long, Markhat and Gertriss are headed out to the rural estate, foiling an assassination attempt and experiencing an unlikely supernatural event on the way.
The setting feels roughly similar to Glen Cook‘s Garrett Files, a fantasy world populated with a variety of intelligent species and hinting at a war between the races in the not-too-distant past. Like Garrett, Markhat fought in the war, and his memories often provide insight into his current troubles. As in the best MUFs, Markhat is quick with a quip but thankfully avoids snark in a true crisis. Despite his vast experience, he’s a skeptic, looking for the more human explanation instead of the magical one. While somewhat of a wit, this books allows his compassion and determination to shine, making him more identifiable than ever and certainly easier to connect with than Garrett.
There’s an urban feel to the series, a type of Ankh-Morpork where generally earth-rules govern, with a magic system that is present but not ubiquitous. Tuttle explains it in pieces, which works well for those who like to put the puzzle together, but if you like your world-building spelled out (ha-ha), this may prove frustrating. Tuttle focuses more on fantasy people, such as vampires (usually called ‘the halfdead’), ogres and trolls, than the magic system, although in this installment we learn more about sorcerers, sanctioned and otherwise. I don’t know that I’d call any elements unique, but to borrow his art analogies, he is arranging them in a satisfying composition.
Writing is smooth, occasionally providing evocative description but more usually focused on action. In this it reminds me of Jim Butcher‘s Dresden files. Occasionally, the description is very earth-like, but still amuses me:
“And if her crowd was selling their paintings like deep-fried money, that had to be putting a crimp in the coffers of every gallery on the street.”
One of the longer Markhart stories, this moved well, striking a nice balance between emotional development, investigation and action in a semi-standard siege setting. Characters were well done, especially the women, which is more rare than one would hope in the modern urban fantasy. Honestly, I’m surprised Tuttle isn’t more widely known given the popularity of the genre. A further note for those that prefer their fantasy non-dark–while Tuttle likes to evoke the occasionally scary scene, he’s essentially an optimistic writer with emotionally satisfying resolutions.
You can find a number of the Markhat shorts cheaply on Kindle, but some have been collected into paperback as well. Now that I’ve got them in e-form, I’ll probably have to hunt a physical copy down for my library. Yes, that good.