SPFBO 8 Finalist Review: The Thirteenth Hour by Trudie Skies

SPFBO 8: The Thirteenth Hour by Trudie Skies

Welcome to the SPFBO 8 Finals! Team Queen’s Book Asylum reviews The Thirteenth Hour by Trudie Skies, picked by the Before We Go Blog team.

A quick reminder about how we are proceeding in the Finals: our judges had the freedom to opt out of reading any of the books due to personal interest, time restrictions, unforeseen life events, etc. Our aim is to have at least 3 reviews/scores for each finalist, which shouldn’t be too hard between the 5 of us. For The Thirteenth Hour we have 4 reviews for your reading pleasures, so, let’s get down to it!

About the Book
Series: The Cruel Gods #1Genre: Fantasy, Gaslamp
Date of Publishing: September 29, 2021Publisher: self-published
Book Blurb
The Thirteenth Hour by Trudie Skies

When the saints fail, the sinners step up.

Cruel gods rule the steam-powered city of Chime, demanding worship and tribute from their mortal subjects. Kayl lost her faith in them long ago, and now seeks to protect vulnerable and downtrodden mortals from their gods’ whims. But when Kayl discovers powers that she didn’t know she had—and destroys a mortal’s soul by accident—she becomes Chime’s most wanted.

Quen’s job was to pursue sinners, until the visions started. Haunted by foreboding images of his beloved city’s destruction, Quen hunts soul-sucking creatures made of aether who prey on its citizens—and Kayl is his number one target.

To ensure Chime’s future, Kayl and Quen must discover the truth of Kayl’s divine abilities before the gods take matters into their own hands.

For a city that bows to cruel gods, it’ll take godless heathens to save it.

The Thirteenth Hour is the first book in The Cruel Gods series—a gaslamp fantasy featuring magical portals, gothic cosmic deities, quaint Britishisms, and steampunk vibes. This is an adult book containing strong language and mature themes that some readers may find disturbing. For a full list of content warnings, visit Trudie Skies’s website.

Review

Bjørn

Trudie Skies’ The Thirteenth Hour is a very good book that probably couldn’t have been perfect. Here’s why. 

The Cruel Gods is a series that builds a mythology of its own, complete and complex. Twelve Gods, twelve domains (excluding the Chime, where most of the action takes place), twelve races… that is a lot of worldbuilding. It could have been a massive infodump or a source of complete confusion. Skies chose a different approach, interrupting the action to give brief explanations of what and why just happened. It felt a bit like tug-break-tug-break to me. Still, the first section kept my interest and what followed was more than worth it. 

I started reading The Thirteenth Hour on a random June 2022 evening. I planned to read a bit and see if I liked it or not really. All of a sudden I noticed it was midnight, I’ve accidentally devoured half of the book, and I should probably get some sleep. As a sensible person, I only read a few more pages. By which I mean chapters. Because you don’t just put this book down, as Boromir would say.

Underneath the conflicts between the Godless, who aren’t as Godless as they would like to be, and the Diviner, who aren’t as divine as they would like to be, the book examines very uncomfortable topics we know all too well from the so-called real world. (See my full Goodreads review for a philosophy lecture. The Queen of this Asylum told me to keep it short.) I love books that keep me thinking long after I’m done reading. The Thirteenth Hour was one of them.

The plot was unpredictable, despite the first half of the book seemingly delivering lots of what felt like massive spoilers. It’s been a while since I had to hold on to my seat because every time I deluded myself into thinking “aha, now I know where it’s going” the book took a sharp turn. Even the events I knew were coming, because spoilers, surprised me. The Thirteenth Hour takes George RR Martin’s “you have a favourite character? not anymore!” and strips it of Martin’s famous empathy and kindness towards the reader. Limitations? Skies never heard of those.

While the ending of The Thirteenth Hour isn’t a real cliffhanger, it suggests the next instalment, The Children of Chaos, can go anywhere. Which it does, now that the worlds, races, and Gods no longer need explanations. (It’s also my favourite read of 2022.) What I want to say is that you should not DNF this book at 30%, irritated by the uneven pacing and info-drops, because you’ll miss out on 1 2/3 (so far) masterpieces that follow.

Recommended for fans of complex, deep fantasy that examines politics, religion, social issues, human psyche; incredible, visceral worldbuilding; and having their hearts broken every time they think “oh phew, everyone’s finally safe.”

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Nick

Gaslamp fantasy is one of my favorite subgenres and I have to admit that I really enjoy books written in this setting quite a bit. I had seen The Thirteenth Hour making the rounds across social media even before this contest and had always wanted to read it, so how fortuitous it was for me that it made it to the finals and that I would finally get a chance to sit down and crack it open. And I have to say that as a whole I was really impressed with so many things about this book. The first thing that grabbed my attention with this book is the absolute elegant prose and how it elevates the story by its presence. The writing is tight and impactful and each scene hits you in a truly emotional way. The next thing that had me hooked on this book throughout is the magnificent worldbuilding. Part of the reason why I love Gaslamp so much is that it is often gloomy and dark in tone and setting, which I’m a fan of. And this one is no different, but there is also quite a bit of the fantastical that gives the world a lot of depth and complexity. I couldn’t get enough of the Steampunkesque quality that the world put forth and the different domains were both mysterious and dangerous, making this story a really intriguing one from beginning to end. 

Lastly I’d like to mention the characterization which was also top notch and kept me completely invested in the narrative. It was difficult to put The Thirteenth Hour down and I found myself gulping down large sections at a time because I couldn’t get enough of it. Needless to say I enjoyed this book a lot and it has made me a Trudie Skies fan going forward. Rest assured this won’t be the last book I pick up by this author. I hope that everyone gives this story a chance because it will reward you enormously for doing so. Highly recommended for all fantasy fans, but especially those who love Victorian, Gaslamp, and Steampunk.

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Paul

Dear best book of the competition so far, it is with regret but your services are no longer required. Please vacate the rent-free apartment in my mind, The Thirteenth Hour will be along shortly to pick up the keys. Invoices will be issued in due course for any damage, magical or otherwise.

Having a strong feeling that you’re going to enjoy a book doesn’t always mean that you’re going to enjoy that book. The Thirteenth Hour by Trudie Skies sounded like my kind of thing, an expansive and original world, social conflict, and a pantheon of shithousering gods. There’s no lie when I say that I was mentally chefs-kissing with all the aggressive gusto of Gordon Ramsey finally having one of his Hell’s Kitchen entrants cook the scallops correctly.

The Thirteenth Hour is set in a rich and vibrant world, one that captivated and kept me enthralled through to the final page. The world feels alive and in constant motion with ephemeral details and peripheral action, making for a world that exists outside of each individual page or scene. Gaslamp isn’t something I’ve read a great deal of, despite loving the little that I have, but Chime and the wider world feel like a perfect fit for the genre. It has the dark grittiness of Krystle Matar’s Legacy of the Brightwash but also the magical shine of P. Djèlí Clark’s Cairo.

Characters are exceptionally diverse, with no humans in sight and a range of well-crafted races and gender/sexual fluidity throughout. Displaying breathtaking ingenuity, Skies manages to make every race, pantheon, and domain feel authentic, and like the cogs in a pocket watch, all of these individual elements move together smoothly and with perfectly imperfect balance.

The narrative does move at a relatively slow pace, though this is understandable given the extreme scope, but it was such a delightful read that it still went by far too quickly. The only negative I have is that there was perhaps a little too much information being given at times; with that being said, this is now one of my favourite fantasy worlds, so I have to say that the end justified the means.

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Timy

I’ve been following The Thirteenth Hour since its publication. Even before that as I was involved with its cover reveal, so I was aware of the hype and high praise it received since. And thus was not surprised when it made it into the finals of SPFBO 8. I put off reading it for a long time, mostly because I’m usually not good with hyped books. But I was also curious how Skies pulled off a world in which there are 12 domains with their own gods and customs and people.

As such, my favorite part about The Thirteenth Hour definitely was the worldbuilding. It’s been a while since I came across something this cool. I loved the concept of time, and how each domain represented an hour, I loved the different people that came with each domain, and their different abilities and I can only imagine how many hours of brainstorming it must have taken to figure out all the details to make it all work. I’m definitely tipping my non-existent hat before Skies. I enjoyed the aspects of societal issues, the connection with the gods – generally all the mythological aspect, you know I love that stuff a lot -, the careful and thoughtful approach to the diverse cast of characters. I’m pretty sure everyone will find one character they can identify with.

This being a vast world and all that, it takes some time for the reader to get their footing and be able to sort in their minds who is who. As others pointed out, it’s a bit info-dumpy at places, and the pacing can be a bit uneven, but once things start to fall into place, it evens out. I also liked the initial premise of the book with a murder investigation at the heart, as I’m a sucker for those. It didn’t get as much focus as I would have liked to, but it was fascinating nonetheless.

I had a feeling that The Thirteenth Hour couldn’t quite decide if it wanted to be a plot-driven or character-driven story and it ended up being a bit out of balance for me. Toward the end, the plot became a bit overcomplicated (although not very predictable which is a big accomplishment if you have visions involved), and although we get to spend a lot of time with the MCs, I never really warmed up to them. Now that’s a problem (for me), because I tend to like books the most if I can be invested in the characters. And here I just couldn’t be. Not that I hated them or anything, it’s just that I couldn’t bond with them, if you know what I mean. I could feel for both Quen and Kayl, though, and I think if I had to pick a favorite I would pick Quen. That said, Skies put both of them through the grinder. If I ever found myself in this world, I would be very afraid of her indeed.

Keeping my review short, it’s never easy to live up to the hype and expectations. The Thirteenth Hour thankfully does not disappoint. I think if it was a bit trimmed and I could connect more with the characters (which is a totally subjective thing, so you know, it can be a me thing), it could very well become one of my favorite books in the competition this year. It definitely has the coolest worldbuilding, so there is that. If you like gaslamp/steampunky novels with a twisty plot, a diverse cast of non-human characters, and a detailed, complex setting full of magic, and you don’t mind having an emotional roller-coaster ride, then you definitely will like Skies‘ first foray into the adult Fantasy world.

Our Judgement
Arina
Bjørn
Nick
Paul
Timy
X
8.5
8
9
8

Our score for The Thirteenth Hour by Trudie Skies

Score 8.5/10

For more SPFBO content, please visit our SPFBO 8 Finals page!

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