Act of Will is a boisterous fantasy adventure that introduces us to Will Hawthorne, a medieval actor and playwright who flees the authorities only to find himself inextricably bound to a group of high-minded adventurers on a deadly mission. Will travels with them to a distant land where they are charged with the investigation and defeat of a ruthless army of mystical horsemen, who appear out of the mist leaving death and devastation in their wake.
In the course of Will’s uneasy alliance with his new protectors, he has to get his pragmatic mind to accept selfless heroism (which he thinks is absurd) and magic (which he doesn’t believe in). Will must eventually decide where his loyalties really lie and how much he is prepared to do–and believe–to stand up for them.
Act of Will. Where to start? Well, I can honestly say that this book surprised me. Look at the cover, read the blurb – I got the very distinct impression that this would be a medieval based, Shakespearean-type story with a fantasy twist in the tale. What I got was a thoroughly enjoyable fantasy romp that, once it got past the initial stages, turned out to be an action packed, funny and thoughtful story.
Will Hawthorne is a young actor who always ends up playing the female roles, when he suddenly finds himself in some serious trouble with the law and on the run. Stumbling into a private meeting of notorious adventurers he falls, literally, into their debt for saving his behind. With his options limited he takes up their (rather reluctant) offer to join and travel with them for the time being. The group consists of Lisha, Mithos, Garnet, Renthrette and Orgos, all individually skilled and deadly in their area of specialty. Act of Will follows Will as he joins and travels with this bunch of adventurers while learning a lot about the wider world.
While there are a good handful of main characters, the whole story is told from Will’s perspective – and what a perspective it is! I’ll be honest and say that his character at the start didn’t do much for me. I thought he was full of himself and very grating because of his attitude. Thankfully Will grows as a character throughout the novel and his unique perspective allows some rather interesting and humorous situations and conversations. Orgos is by far the second ‘main’ character and has the strongest ties to Will through the friendship that slowly comes together between them. There is also a rather funny-but-predictable relationship between Will and Renthrette that slowly builds up during the course of the story which helps to flesh out the dynamics in the group. I guess that’s what is enjoyable about Act of Will – the group dynamics, how each one fits their role with Will as an outsider coming in to an established band of adventurers.
The story is interesting in itself and flows along at a modest pace with one thing or another always going on. Once I got used to reading from Will’s sometimes distorted viewpoint I settled down to enjoy this story. Hartley has created a great world filled by plenty of interesting things, although sometimes we skim along these rather than get a deeper look into the history and detail of the world. Above all the story is an adventure romp that is genuinely funny at times and allows the characters to shine through and be the focus. I won’t say it is faultless, but it certainly manages to entertain and is a worthwhile investment. Recommended.