The Lost Puzzler, Eyal Kless

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“Only at Tarakan valley will you feel at peace”

In the City of Towers, once the heart of the fallen Tarakan empire, a historian searches for clues to explain the disappearance of Rafik, a young boy with extraordinary abilities – a Puzzler. Marked with strange tattoos and gifted with a miraculous connection to Tarakan technology, Rafik could open doors inside the ruins, uncovering treasures and secrets.

* * * * *
5 / 5

It is rare that one book contains so much of the elements and ideas that I love to read about. The Lost Puzzler read like the author had looked into my brain and written this book for me: a speculative, futuristic world featuring ancient cities, people with tattoos and special powers, an unreliable narrator, a young man gifted with a peculiar power, and a hunt for a confusing, wild truth.

We read books to solve a mystery, and the more I heard about Rafik the more I was intrigued, even obsessed, with finding out what had happened and why

There are two interwoven stories in The Lost Puzzler. The first is that of the primary narrator, an unnamed man set on a quest by his Guild of Historians. He is tasked with searching for a woman who knows what happened to a young boy around fifteen years ago. Through this Historian we are introduced to the City of Towers with its ancient Tarakan technology, violent bars, roving gangs and for-hire “trolls” who have willingly modified their bodies with technology, smoking drugs to dull the pain of these modifications.

Through the narrator and his search we hear the tale of Rafik, a young man born to a wildness village. We jump back into the past, to Rafik’s highly religious community who view the tattoos of the Marked as signs of the devil. When Rafik’s fingers turn black with ink, his family sneaks him out and sends him to the city. There he passed from hand to hand, shot over, haggled, bought and sold for the tattoos on his fingertips that mark him as the rarest of rare: a Puzzler. I’m a total sucker for this sort of thing; I loved the Arcane Ascension books for the same sort of reason: some people are gifted with RPG-like powers that work in a ‘real-world’ sort of way.

These men told him what was wrong with him; they had named his malady. He was a Puzzler. Now he had to find out what that meant

Essentially, Rafik can open locked doors and treasure boxes. In the Salvationist-era society, where wealth and fame is to be made in what are essentially dungeon runs, fighting beasts to get to locked nodes of Tarakan treasures deep in the mountains, Rafik is a prize above all others. I adored the way the author wove together a realistic, gritty, imaginative fantasy world with RPG mechanics. It worked so well and had me turning pages manically.

Jump back to the future and our Historian. Something happened to Rafik and we want to know what. The story got weirder and weirder as it becomes apparent that the reader is being lied to, the truth is being fudged in the tale we are hearing. There’s a great balance in The Lost Puzzler. There’s a balance between the draw of the mystery of what happened to Rafik and the action that’s going on in the present. The world is interesting and otherworldly without being alienating and hard to understand. There’s gun fights and pit jumps and moments of terror, balanced against moments of happiness and peace for Rafik.

The Lost Puzzler is an engaging, beautiful, and balanced debut novel that I urge fantasy and sci-fi readers to pick up.

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