"All it needs, is a bit of tenacity... and three little bears."
Goldie, an outlaw and contract hunter of the Baron's State, accepts a new assignment from her employer to find an old cabin in the woods, home to three 'shapeshifters' who can morph into bears. Considered to be little more than a myth, Goldie assumes at first that the shapeshifters are an exaggeration - but with the sizeable bounty her employer is offering, she soon realises there may be more truth in it than she realised.
And that isn't the only thing on her mind: she discovers her main rival - a manipulative and incredibly cunning trapper named Southey - has also taken on the contract, and will be contending for the same bounty she so fervently desires. Having waited many long years to have her revenge and outsmart Southey for past mistakes, Goldie sees the new contract as a perfect opportunity to do so. All she has to do is play her cards just right.
Gold, Lock and Key is the first in a series of novellas, Grimdark Fairytales, by the English author E.J. Doble. An idea that I find super attractive, as it consists of grimdark retellings of traditional fairytales, a sort of coming back to the roots of those stories, which were really dark, and got progressively more adequate to being told to our children.
This one takes The Goldilocks (the three bears) as the base, to create a really grim story, following Goldie, a bounty hunter, who is offered a difficult task, getting rid of three shapeshifting bears. As a big reward is offered, she finds that several other hunters are also on the task, including her old rival, Southey.
A fast-paced adventure, which is not excessively grim at most points, but Doble is not afraid of adding his own grimdark touch to this story. The plot is original, and I have to admit I didn't expect some of the twists in the story.
While I loved reading it, I think the narrator's voice was a little bit inconsistent, jumping between an omniscient third person, and following Goldie per sé. Said that, I expect this aspect to improve in the next books in this series.
Overall it was a really enjoyable experience, and I expect more entries in this series (and the ending hints at it). An original idea, a quick-read novella, and a delightful book for grimdark lovers.
E J Doble is 21 years old from Bath, UK. He is a self-published author, whose first novel, THE FANGS OF WAR, was released in January 2022. He is a part time swim teacher, and painter.
When not writing, he is most often found drinking excess amounts of coffee and tending to a variety houseplants with odd and entirely pointless names.