Samhain doesn't include word counts, so all I can tell you is that this story is approximately 38 pages on my Nook, if you don't count the 12 pages of excerpts that Samhain plopped at the end. It's getting to the point where I wish Samhain and other publishers would limit themselves to a couple pages of "if you liked this, you might try these works also published by us." That would make it so much easier for me to figure out when I'm nearing the end of a story or book.
Markhat is a finder, which I think is equivalent to being a private eye. He's at his favorite bar when a Troll approaches him and asks to hire him. Trolls are terrifying creatures, so Markhat isn't inclined to take the case at first, but the Troll offers him a lot of gold. Money is always nice.
Because its name is too difficult for Markhat to pronounce, the Troll adopts the name Mister Smith. Its companions are all Mister something-or-other. The Misters want Markhat to visit the Haverlock vampire clan, determine where they're keeping the stuffed and mounted Troll head they took as a trophy during the War, and deliver a message saying they want it back. This, of course, turns out to be a very dangerous job.
I was right when I said that this series seemed very much like Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. There's a similar level of snark, both series star a private eye who is resourceful but in over his head, and both series have a lot of fantasy elements. I'm not sure if Markhat has any magical abilities, but so far the answer seems to be “no.” However, he knows at least one person who can give him a bit of magical help.
I found this particular story to be way too short – I wanted to know more about Markhat and his world – but there was enough there for me to be glad that I already own the rest of the series, or at least what's been published so far. This story doesn't reveal much about Markhat other than that he has no family and apparently very few friends and that he fought in the war that took place between the Trolls and the humans. The interesting part, to me, was that, although the vampires fought for the humans during the war, in this story it was the Trolls who were Markhat's allies, while the vampires were the ones he had to be most wary of. The Trolls, while a bit freaky, were still the more trustworthy beings.
The story was fairly simple (a good thing, considering how short it was), but interesting. Considering how it ended, I'm hoping that the Trolls pop up in one of the later books/stories. Markhat seems to be one of those characters who is probably perpetually short on funds but rich in not-quite-comfortable alliances. I love characters like that.
Unfortunately, Samhain charges rather a lot for its short works – this story sells for $2.50 and, like I said, isn't available via ARe, so you can't count on a future sale there to reduce the price. However, it's a good story, and I don't feel that the money I spent was a waste. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series and will hopefully be able to give my input on how easy it would be for a newbie to start with one of the later works.
- Jhereg (book) by Steven Brust - This is the first book in Brust's Vlad Taltos series (if you want to read them in publication order - in chronological order, Taltos comes first). The main character is a witch-assassin who has taken a job requiring him to kill a man who stole from the House of Jhereg, and kill him in such a way that no one would ever steal from the House again. Those who'd like something else with strong fantasy and mystery elements, plus a side of humor, might want to try this. It's been a few years since I read this, but I remember enjoying it - I meant to read more of the series and never got around to it. There are too many good books out there are not enough hours in the day...
- Storm Front (book) by Jim Butcher - This is the first book in Butcher's Dresden Files series. The main character, Harry Dresden, is a professional wizard. He's basically a hardboiled private eye with magical abilities. In this book, he helps the police investigate gruesome murders in which the victims' hearts have exploded inside their chests.
- Guards! Guards! (book) by Terry Pratchett - Something about Markhat's world made me think of it as a darker version of Terry Pratchett's Discworld. Those who'd like something else set in a city housing a variety of human and nonhumans might want to try this, which I think is one of the first books to deal with Sam Vimes and Ankh-Morpork's City Watch in any detail. The book combines, fantasy and humor, plus, if I remember correctly, a bit of investigative work on Vimes' part.