Out of the Dust by Joe Coates

SPFBO Status: Semifinalist

Medium: ebook (552 pages in print)

Overview (No Spoilers):

Out of the Dust, the first book of The Crucible Trilogy by Joe Coates, has a Wild West feel throughout much of this novel, with the added twist of the street urchin goes to school trope. This novel starts out with a bang, as the reader is introduced to the outlaw crew in a most violent but well-orchestrated heist, demonstrating the efficiency of the Shaws alongside their motivations. Evolving from this initial job, the pacing and violence maintain a brisk pace throughout, keeping the reader actively flipping pages to find out how the crew will get themselves out of the next precarious situation. Soon, they cross paths with an old enemy whose ability to hold a grudge and a cracking mental state make for a deadly combination. 

The story mostly bounces back and forth between Viggo Shaw and his long-time nemesis Marquis Latrell. That said, Viggo is no hero, and if anything, helped bully Latrell into his current role. Coates utilizes flashbacks, especially in the beginning, to establish the history between characters, along with their backstories. Viggo and his brother, Destin were plucked from the streets to attend a school where they rubbed shoulders with the children of nobles. It is during these flashbacks where Latrell is first introduced, along with Viggo’s long-time love, Erika. I had expected the flashbacks to continue throughout the book to establish more about what the school was like and how these urchins adjusted to such a significant change in their lifestyle. Or perhaps what the final trigger was for them to decide to take up the life of a robber. Much of this backstory was left vague, with general references to motivations without defining moments of influence. Additionally, Coates would build up to big events within the story, leaving the reader poised at the edge of a cliffhanger, only to have the next chapter fast forward through the action. While this works to have the reader fill in the blanks with their own imaginations, this trick was employed one too many times leaving the buildup to feel cheated. 

Viggo and Latrell filled very conventional and predictable roles in Out of the Dust with their motivations being straightforward. The surrounding cast, even Viggo’s siblings, remained one-dimensional as the thrill of escape continually took precedence. This combination led to a lack of attachment on the part of the reader toward any of the characters, though Coates did imbibe the story with the feeling that no character was truly safe from this dangerous lifestyle led by all. 

Out of the Dust was fast-paced throughout much of the novel, with danger ever dogging the racing footsteps of this crew of bandits. That said, the timelines of the interactions often seemed disjointed as Latrell would traverse large swaths of land multiple times, sometimes even with large armies in tow through the wilderness and still somehow end up only a day behind the Shaws who had traveled roughly in a straight line with minor deviations.

Overall, Out of the Dust was a well-written adventure where depth and details were sacrificed in the pursuit of safety and suspense. 

Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):

  • How would Latrell have been different had Viggo befriended him instead of bullying him? Would he have remained on the same path anyway because of his father?
  • How did Ylva learn to fight so well in a brothel?
  • How will Ylva and Viggo cope with Destin no longer protecting them?
  • Riddal was my favorite character in this book. Granted, it’s likely my scientific bias coming to play here, but she was a great addition to the crew.
  • Why didn’t the Vardor of Penparvik use their Empathy as a weapon against Latrell and the King’s Guard?
  • There was a weird attraction between Fanella and Viggo in the end as they’d only had minimal interactions within the text. That said, they had traveled quite a long ways together, but still it seemed to come out of nowhere. 
  • Will Fanella learn to use her powers?
  • Where did Latrell learn how to steal her powers?
  • How did Ylva get the big game back to the brothel? I doubt she could carry it by herself. 
  • Why did all the powerful men of this realm not put more effort into legitimate heirs? The King and the Viceroy both did not have legitimate heir throughout this book. Viceroy did have Latrell but told him by the end of the book he was marrying and getting around to making an actual heir. 
  • Latrell somehow beat the Shaws to Finwick. Why didn’t he wait for them if he knew they were going to be heading to this port? 
  • Where will the people of Penparvik go? They’ll have to stay and rebuild since this area is an Empathy well, right? How did Latrell and the remaining soldiers escape the battle? 
  • What happened to Latrell for him to heal so fast? What other skills and secrets do the women who experimented on him have? 

Vocabulary Builder

Vambrace: a piece of medieval armor designed to protect the forearm

Kine: archaic plural of cow

Avaricious: greedy of gain excessively acquisitive especially in seeking to hoard riches

Brumby: a wild or unbroken horse

Ubiquitous: seeming to be seen everywhere

Drovers: one who drives cattle or sheep

Baccy: tobacco

Parsimonious: exhibiting or marked by parsimony

Impetus: stimulation or encouragement resulting in increased activity

Sloop: a fore-and-aft rigged boat with one mast and a single jib

Proletariat: the lowest social or economic class of a community

Libations: an act or instance of drinking often ceremoniously 

Russet: coarse homespun usually reddish-brown cloth

Anodyne serving to alleviate pain

Perspicacity: of acute mental vision or discernment 

Firmament the field or sphere of an interest or activity

Saccharine: of, relating to, or resembling that of sugar

Venal: capable of being bought or obtained for money or other valuable consideration

Bole: Trunk

Obsequious: too eager to help or obey someone important

Hawser: a large rope for towing, mooring, or securing a ship

Cessation: a temporary or final ceasing (as of action)

Affray: a fight in a public place that disturbs the peace

Congruence: the quality or state of agreeing, coinciding, or being congruent

Diminutive: one that is notably small

Barbican an outer defensive work

Lamellar: having the form of a thin plate

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