Audiobook Review: Under Ordshaw by Phil Williams
I received a review copy from the author. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Book 1 of Ordshaw
Publisher: Phil Williams (April 28, 2020)
Length: 11 hrs and 24 mins
Narrator: Fran Burgoyne
As a popular entry in the 2019 Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off competition, Under Ordshaw has actually been on my radar for a while, but a busy schedule prevented me from getting to it earlier. As it turned out though, that became a happy opportunity for me to check out the audiobook edition which came out this spring. Urban Fantasy tends to be a genre I prefer in the audio format, and this one ended up being a very entertaining listen.
The story stars protagonist Pax Kuranes, a professional card player who has just won big at a poker game one night, and is in the process of heading home with the considerable prize money when a distraction causes her to be robbed. Before she can do anything, however, the young thief is swiftly apprehended into government custody, raving about minotaurs and underground labyrinths beneath the city and other such nonsense. Frustrated and desperate to get her money back, Pax decides to do some digging of her own, tracking down the man’s hideout and stumbling upon some interesting writings stashed away in his belongings—more disjointed ramblings and drawings that seem to be the product of a very confused mind.
Returning home, though, Pax finds someone waiting for her. It appears her activities have attracted attention from certain factions. From the Ministry of Environmental Energy is Agent Casaria, who hopes to win Pax to their side by opening her eyes to the reality of Ordshaw’s underground ecosystem, a secret world inhabited by monsters and faeries and other supernatural creatures. Meanwhile, trying to move on and live his life again is also Barton, a man who once had an unfortunate run-in with the Sunken City beneath Ordshaw, and has been trying to forget it since. A husband and a father, Barton has kept the truth from his family for many years in order to keep them safe, but now it seems his past has finally caught up to him despite his efforts.
The story wastes no time plunging readers into the action. In fact, it makes Pax all the more sympathetic because in many ways we can understand the confusion and overload of information she must feel. The details and explanations come at us hard and fast, and the pacing hardly slows which is something I can appreciate when it comes to UF, though it does make for slippery transitions. At the beginning, it’s especially imperative to pay attention to everything and stay on top of things, lest you get left behind and become lost. Despite my best efforts, even I found myself floundering in some places, wondering if the narration had skipped over an important detail or if I might have blanked out momentarily and missed something.
But the strengths of the book are most definitely its characters. Although Pax is a great protagonist, surrounded by so many other interesting and out-of-this-world personalities, she almost seems mundane in comparison. I loved Letty, one of the fae in Under Ordshaw who are tiny winged creatures but with feisty dispositions to make up for their size. In my mind, I pictured her looking something like a foul-mouthed Tinkerbell. And then there’s Casaria, whose POV I felt was the most complex. One moment he feels like a villain, and the next, he comes across as someone I should pity. At times, his little crush on Pax and other delusional daydreams for the future almost makes me feel bad for him, but then he’ll inevitably lose all goodwill again by going down some misguided track. Following the alternating perspectives in their so-called partnership made for some unexpectedly funny moments though, because Casaria is so often way off base with his perceptions of what’s actually happening between him and Pax.
Then there’s Barton, who currently lives as an average citizen but his history with the denizens of Sunken City has come back to haunt him, putting his family in danger. In my mind, his storyline was the glue holding all the different parts of the plot together, a thread that highlighted both the ongoing conflicts beneath Ordshaw and the repercussions unfolding above.
Overall, this was a standout introduction to the world of Ordshaw, and I know that there have been more books and stories added to the series. Hopefully, that they will also come to audio at some point, because Under Ordshaw was fantastically performed by Fran Burgoyne, who made getting into this story so easy with her smooth narration and expressive voices. It would be awesome if the other novels will the same treatment, and I look forward to checking them out.