For a book set in a wildly inventive fantasy world, Titanshade feels damn real. And not just because they have 8-track players. Most of the characters fit into well-worn roles—jaded veteran cop, earnest rookie cop, angry police captain, dirty ex-cop, conniving politician, religious, charismatic, and villainous oil baron—but none are caricatures or cardboard cutouts. Stout makes them all feel real, people you could imagine interacting with in real life (sans mandibles) despite the outlandish setting. Stout keeps the setting grounded too.
“There was a daily chaotic madness to my town, a blue-collar work ethic still visible regardless of how many coats of oil money had been slapped over it the last fifty years.”
Paired with a meaty, satisfying mystery, it makes for one hell of a fantasy noir.
Titanshade mashes a few genres together. It is an urban fantasy, a second-world fantasy, a buddy cop story, a fantasy noir, a mystery.
Carter is a jaded old cop. He’s got one bad shoot and one dead wife that left him personally broken and professionally spinning his wheels. But he isn’t quite antihero. His earnest young partner, Ajax, has Carter’s measure:
“You get in trouble. You act like you don’t care about any of your cases, but when you latch on to one you’ll obsess on it until your health breaks. You’ve got a temper, and you’re a smartass. And you’re honest.”
Ajax, by the way, is a Mollenkampi, a humanoid race with head plates and mandibles. I mostly thought of the Predator when I thought of the Mollenkampi, but there are obvious shades of Bright. The Mollenkampi aren’t the only intelligent, non-human race in Titanshade. The mystery gets kicked off by the brutal murder of a member of a “Squib” delegation to the city. The Squibs are looking to bring wind farms to the ice plains around Titanshade to replace the depleted oil derricks that built Titanshade’s wealth. It is a deal that everyone allegedly wants to happen, and the political implications of the murder and its investigation are immense.
Titanshade itself is a city of five million crowded into the shade of a mountain, heated by geothermal vents (courtesy of what may or may not be a god trapped under the mountain), and built on oil wealth from the surrounding ice plains. Sorcery exists, but has become very rare after the extinction of the whales that provided the manna that fuels it. (That same manna fueled the world’s first industrial revolution.)
I’ve talked before about why I love 70s cinema. Part of the reason I love it is because it was the last decade Hollywood cared about the working class. It predated a massive economic boom that introduced a giant gulf between middle class and upper class that is as cultural as it is economic. With its 70s era tech, Titanshade is a throwback. Carter is blue-collar at heart, the son of a roughneck.
As a former Houstonian, I was excited, and a little anxious, to see a fantasy revolving around oil. Is there anything worse that reading a book that deals with a topic you know something about only to discover the author doesn’t? But Stout understands energy. And cops. Both enrich the story.
All in all, I loved it. It was one of the few mysteries that gripped me, and Carter is a great protagonist. The book ends on a satisfying note and works very well as a standalone, but there is a twist at the end that could set up some really cool stuff for sequels. Let’s hope we see them!
4.5 of 5 Stars.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of Titanshade from the publisher.
 “People think cops close ranks—and they’re right. We do it because we know that no one who hasn’t worn the pressed crimson uniform of the patrol knows what we face day in and day out. But even when we protect our own, that doesn’t mean we’re blind to what they’ve done.”