The Facefaker’s Game

The Facefaker's Game Book Cover The Facefaker's Game
Chandler J. Birch
Simon Schuster/ Simon451
November 1, 2016

For fans of Patrick Rothfuss and Scott Lynch, a picaresque fantasy about a clever young beggar who bargains his way into an apprenticeship with a company of thieving magicians and uses his newfound skills in a vendetta against a ruthless crime lord.

Ashes lives in Burroughside—the dirtiest, most crime-ridden district in the huge city of Teranis. His neighbors are gangs of fellow orphans, homeless madmen, and monsters that swarm the streets at nightfall. Determined to escape Burroughside, Ashes spends his days begging, picking pockets, and cheating at cards. When he draws the wrath of Mr. Ragged, Burroughside’s brutal governor, he is forced to flee for his life, only to be rescued by an enigmatic man named Candlestick Jack.

Jack leads a group of Artificers, professional magicians who can manipulate light with their bare hands to create stunningly convincing illusions. Changing a face is as simple as changing a hat. Ashes seizes an opportunity to study magic under Jack and quickly befriends the rest of the company: Juliana, Jack’s aristocratic wife; William, his exacting business partner; and Synder, his genius apprentice. But all is not as it seems: Jack and his company lead a double life as thieves, and they want Ashes to join their next heist. Between lessons on light and illusion, Ashes begins preparing to help with Jack’s most audacious caper yet: robbing the richest and most ruthless nobleman in the city.

A dramatic adventure story full of wit, charm, and scheming rogues, The Facefaker’s Game introduces an unforgettable world you won’t soon want to leave.


The Facefaker’s Game came to me thanks to a Goodreads giveaway.

This book caught my eye mainly through the recommendation on the cover by Brent Weeks. Reading up on The Facefaker’s Game ahead of time, I went in knowing Chandler J. Birch is a budding author. With that in mind I set the bar for my expectations and Birch pole vaulted clear over said bar. Without prior research, you would never know this was someone’s first book. The writing, while not on par with masters of literature, feels like someone with a decade of experience authored it. Birch clearly has a knack for this and The Facefaker’s Game seems like a prelude of great things to come.

The characters follow a few standard tropes but are all fun and memorable. The main character Ashes, an Oliver Twist type orphan trying to get out of the slums to a better life. Antagonist Mr. Raggard takes on the role of the politician/crime lord (more Wilson Fisk than Lex Luthor). Candlestick Jack is the mysterious mentor who sees something special in Ashes but also has plans of his own. Despite fitting tropes, all the characters have backstories and quirks that make them feel real. Readers see their motivations and it explains their decision making; they feel more like people than words on a page.

Setting-wise, The Facefaker’s Game follows the trope of The City. The City is big, important, and divided between rich and poor. With Ashes being an orphan, the slums are the setting for a good portion of the book. The writing here is dark and gritty, reflecting how desperate people living here are to get out or just survive. It is not as extreme as something like The Night Angel Trilogy or The Broken Empire Trilogy, but rough enough that there is a real sense of danger.

Plot-wise, the story went along pretty quickly. The page count here is not too crazy, so this does not crawl along like a high fantasy novel. Some parts are more fast-paced than others but overall it does not fly by you too fast. The pacing was just where it needed to be in order to resolve plot elements. That is not to say everything is resolved; enough gets left open here that this could be a standalone story or start a series. Hopefully it starts a series as there is room for much, much more here. And if Birch can start The Facefaker’s Game and his writing career this well, I cannot wait to see where he goes next.

May 13, 2018

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