Published by Audible Studios on November 21st 2017
Narrator: Marc Vietor, Scott Aiello, Tavia Gilbert
Length: 9 hrs
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When your fairy godmother threatens to enslave you with a curse - when a malevolent piper solves your rat problem but steals your children - when you seek revenge on the prince who turned you into a frog - who can you turn to in your hour of need? The band of scoundrels known far and wide as the Bastard Champions - the swashbuckling trio who travel a world of legend, seeking adventure and righting wrongs - as long as there's enough gold to be earned. They are Jack, the seemingly unkillable leader whose ever-present grin belies a dark past; Marie, who fights with fury but battles more fiercely to control the beast within; and Frank, the master of logistics, whose cloak hides horrific scars that are far more than skin-deep. As they slash and scheme through kingdom and village alike, the Bastard Champions uncover tantalizing clues to their ultimate quarry: the powerful Blue Fairy, who has made each of their lives a living hell.
Second Hand Curses adds a dash of sly wit and a heaping portion of action to the fairy tales you thought you knew.
I loved everything about this Second Hand Curses: the characters, the story twists, the way the story unfolded, the narration. It was creative and entertaining, and I hope there will be more to come.
This story was a treat to find. I am a fan of author Drew Hayes and I follow him on Twitter and on Goodreads so I was quite surprised to see Second Hand Curses come up on my Audible recommendations. I hadn’t heard anything about this Audible Original story, and I am so glad I didn’t miss it.
Let me tell you about all the great things about Second Hand Curses. The twisted fairy tales follows the trio known as The Bastard Champions: Marie, Frank and Jack. I am going to tell you as little as I can about them since part of the fun is uncovering exactly who they are in this world of fairy tale fiction. But I shall tell you that they are a considered “cursed monsters” but have learned to use their curses to help others for the right cost. They consider themselves scoundrels and live by few rules but they are loyal to each other and never turn on a client once they take on a job.
These Bastard Champions are on a quest to kill the Blue Fairy. All fairies known by a color are dastardly and untrustworthy. Actually all fairies are evil but the ones named for colors are the worst and the Blue Fairy needs to be taken down. Marie, Frank and Jack know that the Blue Fairy might be too powerful for them, but they aren’t deterred, even after they come to realize that the Blue Fairy has been laying a trail for them to follow and begin to fear they are walking right into a trap.
Along the way, they can be hired to help, for the right amount of gold. You didn’t read the fine print and after helping win the Prince’s heart, your Fairy Godmother is now coming to collect an unbelieveable price; call the Bastard Champions. A swindler with a pipe wants you to pay the an exorbitant price for rat removal and makes off with the town’s children; The Bastard Champions can help. You kiss a frog who promised to be a handsome prince and now you at stuck sitting on a lily pad; who you gonna call? That’s right, The Bastard Champions.
All the little vignettes are creative twists on your standard fairy tales and make great stories of dastardly deeds that require the help of the Bastard Champions. There are additional stories blended in where we learn more background of Marie, Frank and Jack and which are part of their quest to kill the Blue Fairy. And it isn’t fate which controls this world, it is The Narration. There are points in the story where our main characters are aware that things have lined up a little too conveniently and that The Narration must be at work.
The overview of the story given in a narrative while the individual characters are each voiced by a different narrator which brings a nice dimension to the story. For example, Marie was narrated by Tavia Gilbert through the entire story and this was much better than in the audiobook version of Six of Crows where each character’s chapter was done by a different narrator who gave a different voices to the separate characters.
I know that not all of your are fans of audiobooks, but this is an Audible Original and therfore, only available as an audiobook. If you have hestitated to give audiobooks a try, this is a great choice since it was a great presentation of a very clever and entertaining story.
I would HIGHLY recommend you give Drew Hayes and Second Hand Curses a try.
The Sheriff was only paying half attention to Jack while he was looking through more of the pages, eyes darting to Frank and Marie as he no doubt tried to pin down who they were. It was a largely futile endeavor as Frank had little history in this land and Marie’s true identity would never be suspected of keeping this sort of company. As it turned out however, he did find something in his perusing of wanted posters and rumors.
“Well, looky here. You three, you wouldn’t happen to be the outlaws known as The Bastard Champions, would you?”
Murmurs ran through the other men in the room. The guards here to watch over these three strange prisoners. Jack paid them no mind. It wasn’t as though their company name was a secret. If anything, he was happy to hear it being spread about. More notarity lead to more jobs, and being able to charge a higher fee for them.
“Outlaw is a strong word. I think you’ll find we’ve never been proven of having broken a single kingdom’s law. That’s why all those pages you’re holding the mention me don’t actually call for my arrest. And yes, we are indeed The Bastard Champions, a group of problem solvers who will tackle nearly any task. Assuming one has the gold to afford us.”
They expected more muttering. Maybe a few laughs. But the shift of mood in the room took even Jack by surprise. Suddenly faces grew hard and somber. Even the Sheriff’s mighty scowl seemed uncertain as he leaned forward.
“Within the confines of kingdom’s laws, of course.” Jack’s smile said he knew this was tripe just as much as every guard in the room. To Jack’s thinking, laws were just rules passed by the powerful, and he’d never been much of a fan of rules.
“You any good at tracking?” The Sheriff’s scowl was beginning to fade as something new took its place, interest tinged with…hope? “Tracking things not meant to tracked maybe?”
“We have some excellent tracking skills available to us, but our world is a long, sprawling place with many people, and magics. Perhaps you can be touch more specific and we can tell you whether or not we have the skills to do what you ask.”
It was as polite a way as possible to tell the Sheriff to dole out the details or let the matter drop.
Slowly, the Sheriff laid the pages down on his desk and stared at the trio. He was evaluating them. Looking in their eyes to see if he trusted them. It was a much briefer affair than normal, mostly because not long after meeting eyes with Frank, he turned away. That was to be expected. Frank’s eyes were disconcerting and not just the dragon’s pupil in his left socket. The crystal blue right eye was almost just as bad, simply because it was so beautiful that it clearly had no place on his patchwork face.
Whatever the Sheriff saw in them, evidently it was enough to keep the spark of hope alive, because with a heavy sigh, he began to explain.
“The rats came a month ago, big mean bastards that chewed their way into cellars and ate everything they could find. We tried poison, traps, even sent a rider to the nearest kingdom to pick up some magic potions, but none of it worked. Then the piper showed up. Promised that for a handful of gold, he’d clear out the entire town. We agreed with the caveat that we only paid for results. Sure enough, he put that flute to his lips and within an hour we were free and clear. It felt like the Narrative had sent us a miracle. Then he came back.”
The Sheriff paused for a moment. His face turning red as poorly hidden anger welled up. “He had some muscle with him this time, and he demanded far more than what we’d agreed to pay. Said that was just to play the flute. Marching the rats away costs extra for every step. We told him to piss off, obviously, and that he’d get nothing from us. That night, some people heard the flute again. It wasn’t until morning that we realized what had happened. All of the town’s children were…he took them away somehow. Stole them in the night. Now he wants even more gold or he says he won’t give them back.”
Up until the end of the story, Jack was feeling quite good about their situation. Tracking down a con man who had no more protection than a few goons and a rat-flute would be relatively easy. It was in the final words of the tale that they hit a snag, however. Children had been brought into the equation, and while Frank didn’t stiffen up, tap Jack on the knee or give any other outward sign, Jack knew his friend was staring at him with those mismatched eyes. Now that Frank knew children were in trouble, they would take this job. Frank was easily the least demanding member of their team but this was a point he was famously inflexible on. The trick was to negotiate a proper price out of the Sheriff before he knew they’d have to do it for free, if needed, just to keep Frank happy.
“Interesting. I heard a rumor once about something similar down in Hamelin, although it was long done by the time it reached my ears. I assume you’ve already sent people out looking for the children.”
“The best trackers we have. They come up empty. All the trails were obscured. A hoard of rats had trampled over most of the forest wiping out any hints as to where the piper and the children went.”
“And how long until he wants his money?”
“Less than a week left. We’ve been trying to scrape together what we can but we’re a small hamlet. There’s only so much gold to be found.”
It was a tight timeframe but if the piper was relying on rats to obscure his trail, that meant he probably didn’t have any better, more magical options. Hunting him down should be doable even if it did mean their delay. Still, getting out of here without bloodshed would be nice, and if they could add some gold to their pockets in the process, all the better.
“I believe my associates and I can be of some help so it looks like we can come to an arrangement. We’ll even be willing to do it for the shockingly low price of a mere hundred gold, along with the return of our prisoner and any help you might be able to lend in tracking our target.”
The Sheriff blanched visibly and whispers flew around the room.
“A hundred gold? That’s two-thirds of what he wants just to hand the children back.”
Jack was a bit shocked to hear that the piper was offering such a low-ball price. A hundred and fifty gold for an entire town of children was far less than he expected. Perhaps the piper took a town’s fiscal capacity into account when making such demands.
“Two-thirds the price and it comes with the added benefit of getting the head of the man who stole your children delivered to you on a platter or a pike. Your choice. Sounds to me like quite a bargain.”