Book Review: The Traitor God by Cameron Johnston

Traitor GodFormat:  oversized paperback, first edition, 2018

Pages:  426

Reading Time:  about 8 hours

One Sentence Synopsis: Edrin Walker returns home after ten years to avenge the death of his best friend, only to find that it is part of a much bigger mystery, one that threatens the city and the only person he still cares about.

 

I received The Traitor God with great anticipation, bumping other books out of the queue so that I could read it immediately. As you know, I had interviewed Cameron Johnston several months ago and pre-ordered the book from Amazon. I was a little nervous, as I enjoyed the interview but was hoping the book was good enough that I wouldn’t have to leave an awkward, negative review. So on to that review, which as usual is chock-full of spoilers, but first I’ll spotlight a couple of other reviews from cyberspace.

Adele from Adele is Reading reviewed an ARC copy, and has this to say: “What drew me towards The Traitor Gods was initially the cover; I mean, it’s beautifully illustrated, and it’s so interesting. There’s so much to look at! The second thing that drew me towards this novel was the title: The Traitor God. The title alone sparks my imagination…The Traitor God was certainly interesting, and at 15% into the novel there was already so much that had happened. I was almost overwhelmed honestly. If I hadn’t told myself that I was reading this book to the end, then I might have had trouble finishing this book. The only thing that I didn’t particularly enjoy was that a lot of history is thrown into this novel. So much so that the dialogue between characters was disrupted so that we could learn some history. What I particularly didn’t like about this was in some instances, this history telling would end up taking chapters sometimes…Something that I truly enjoyed was the fact that even though Walker’s story is one of revenge, I felt like Walker’s story is also one of redemption.

T. Eric Bakutis at Fantasy Hive, which is where I first learned of The Traitor God, offers up this take: “I enjoyed watching the book’s larger mystery unfold while author Cameron Johnston also unspooled the smaller mysteries of Walker’s past, friends, allies, and murderous telepathic dagger. Despite the wonders of Setharis – towering golem war machines who slumber in the middle of the city, powerful magi who can bend the elements and flesh itself, and Setharis’s four remaining gods (you know, the gods Walker didn’t kill) – life in Walker’s world is not easy, even for magi. This is no idealized fantasy world, and life for the average sap living in the mass of slums beneath the magi’s glittering towers is just dreck. Johnston shows us very clearly what life was like before modern sanitation and antibiotics, and even with magic (which is reserved for the elite) his world felt grounded and believable…By putting us inside Walker’s head and telling us his story, Johnston kept me interested in Walker’s quest for vengeance and understanding, and even made me like the bastard. As Johnston revealed more of Walker’s wretched childhood, his attempts to do actual good, and his many failures, Walker evolved from an interesting jerk focused on revenge to an understandably damaged man who constantly pushes down his own survival instincts to protect those he holds dear, fighting when he wants to run…Though Walker is the only POV character in the book, there are a number of colorful and interesting characters throughout. Walker’s best friend, Charra, is a dangerous and loyal ally who constantly gives Walker good-natured grief about everything, and Eva, the mage knight Walker flirts with despite the fact that she’d certainly kill him if she learned who he was, is an absolute terror in a fight. Other favorite characters included Charra’s rather deadly daughter, Layla, and Shadea, an utterly implacable badass…If you enjoy clever gray characters, gritty but interesting worlds, and creepy magic, this book is for you.

Finally, Chris Meadows at Sci-Fi and Fantasy Reviews opines: “It’s a cynical, dark, bloody tale, with flashes of hope, and some terrifying and spectacular magic, in a vivid, well realised world…The book isn’t shy about exploring the themes of power and accountability, examining the kind of decisions which can be made when absolute power is assured, and the compromises of judgment necessary to reach that level – and whether or not those compromises are justified…Walker isn’t what one would generally think of as a hero. He’s quick witted, sure, but also bitter. This tends to manifest as scathing sarcasm and a penchant for running his mouth when he shouldn’t…Walker also realises his own flaws. Understanding his lack of compassion, knowing that magic has broken something inside of him, he struggles to hold on to his humanity, while being appalled at the actions and careless disdain of greater monsters than he…This is Walker’s book, but the ensemble around him is built of well-rounded, believable characters, acting on their own agenda’s. I would have liked to see more of some of them, to be sure; for example, Walker’s oldest friend and her daughter make great foils for our lead, but seem to be straining at the seams of their scenes, trying to take over the stage…The plot? Well, it’s a story of blood, betrayal and despair. It’s also a mystery, as Walker tries to piece together exactly why so many people are trying to kill him. I mean, some of it is because he has a habit of smarting off to authority, but not all of it…Its snappy, tautly written prose kept me turning pages until far too late in the night. It’s a cracking debut, and if you want a well done dose of fantasy-noir, this one’s for you.

 

I agree with The Fantasy Hive and Chris’s reviews, but not so much with Adele’s – I loved the history aspect, but I could see how she would be overwhelmed. I found the opening of the story a bit confusing, as we are dropped into the middle of a battle with Viking-like invaders and Johnston explains how his magic system works. This continues as Walker escapes the battle and heads home after a rough sea voyage, where things become a bit more clear. The magic system begins to make sense when including sniffers, who have the ability to detect magic, but early on we are shown that such magic is flawed, as Walker is easily able to fool the sniffer. We also get a feel for how poor the city’s slums are, and the totalitarian-like response from the ruling mageocracy when their rules are violated. There is a clear feeling of “us vs. them” between these two classes, which gives the setting Johnston has built an authentic ring. In fact, the world-building, primarily as it relates to this single city, is fantastic. Setharis is very much a living, breathing city, from the poor slums to the higher levels of the city where the privileged live, the the towers where mages have ascended to become gods, the giant golem-like war engine statues, the bridges spanning a foul river, to the boneyards beneath the city – it’s all fully imagined and makes sense. At times I pined for a map of the city, but I was able to follow along well enough as the story develops. I enjoyed the revelations into the history of the Setharii Empire, the impact of which is still felt thousands of years later by the inhabitants of Setharis, and the remnants of history have a major impact on the story. And the Cthulu influence that Johnston mentioned in my interview with him is definitely born out by the nasty monsters his imagination unleashes. As a Cthulu fan myself, I loved it.

Walker is a wonderful protagonist. He is deeply flawed: snarky, angry, anti-social, and capable of dominating the thoughts of others – he is definitely an anti-hero. This is no farm boy/magic sword story trope (although he does have a Stormbringer-type dagger right out of an Elric story). Yet he has positive characteristics too: driven and determined, loyal to friends, caring about what happens to the poorer citizens of Setharis, and a reluctance to use his power despite its allure for abuse. Perhaps most importantly, Walker grows and changes by the end of the story, which is important for the main character to do. In some ways he reminds me of Zelazny’s Corwin from the Amber series, but Walker is entirely a unique individual born from Johnston’s imagination. The supporting characters are very fleshed out, surprisingly even the dead Lynas, who we get to see in a few flashbacks, as well as characters who talk about him…as Walker’s source of motivation and also his conscience, the ghost of Lynas is ever present in the story. I liked Charra, Shadea, and Cillian, with perhaps my favorite supporting character being Eva: part flirtatious scholar, part mage-knight badass. I think Charra’s daughter is a little underdeveloped, but I’m sure that will change in the next book if Johnston is given the opportunity.

The pacing is amazing – I don’t think I’ve ever read another book crammed full of chases, epic battles, intrigue, and a plot that careens from one action sequence to another while barely allowing Walker to catch his breath. As the story progresses, the stakes get higher, more secrets are revealed, and I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen next. It is a thrill ride from beginning to end, although there is a sequence where the plot bogs down a little as the characters wait around before they can activate a war machine. Still, Johnston has created a pace have never read before, which constantly commanded my attention and had me absolutely riveted throughout the book. He will be hard pressed to top it in a sequel.

And as for the plot? Well, that’s pretty good. What initially starts out as a murder mystery turns into a plot to destroy the city and rebuild from the ashes, due to a god-like power and the injustice of the class system of Setharis. While at first it seems hard to believe that Walker would align himself with the class system he despises, it is the cost – the death of thousands of the poor people he associates himself with – that is too high for him to bear, which forces him to oppose this plan. Not to mention that the Skinner – a serial murderer – killed Lynas, so Walker has to track the killer down, too. And then there is Walker’s foggy memory of killing a god. As this incident becomes more clear, it explains much about how Walker’s abilities have become much stronger, how he can heal more quickly and take so much more punishment. There was a moment in the story when I thought Walker might actually be the god he had killed with a memory block in place, which would have been a pretty cool twist. That, however, would make Walker a little too powerful and probably less empathetic, so I was happy to be wrong on that account. The only quibble I had was that it was very easy to guess what had happened to Walker’s former mentor Byzant, who had disappeared after Walker left town 10 years previously. This book is described as “grimdark”, so for those who are appalled by descriptions of gore and profuse swearing, they will not like this aspect. It didn’t bother me at all.

The Traitor God is a story that Johnston has been working on for years and it shows. The dedication to his craft, along with the feedback from his writer’s support group, has delivered an extraordinary tale. I was blown away by Johnston’s debut offering, which is polished enough that you would think this is his fourth or fifth book written. I hope Johnston is able to deliver a sequel, because I will be all over it. As I mentioned above, I think he will have a hard time “dialing up the monsters and magic to 11”, as he proclaimed in our interview, but I can’t wait to see him try!

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New Arrivals 6-20-18

Summer is here and as expected, the nice weather has led to yard work (maintaining 5 acres is no small task), some much-needed vacation time, and getting projects done, which leaves little time for reading right now. To fill in the gap until I can post my next review, I present the following books, which have arrived and are being added to the growing queue.

After the difficulties I had in finding Ian C. Esslemont’s Return of the Crimson Guard in hard cover, I thought I better go get the others I was missing. The price seems to be getting higher for each title in trying to find a nice, non-library copy…

Orb, Sceptre, Throne

orb sceptre throne

Stonewielder

stonewielder

Assail

assail

 

Being impressed with Will Wight’s House of Swords, I ordered the sequels…

The Crimson Vault

crimson vault

City of Light

city of light

 

I also picked up the rest of Phil Tucker’s Chronicles of the Black Gate that I have not yet read…

The Siege of Abythos

siege of abythos

The Iron Circlet

iron circlet

The White Song

white song

 

Reading rave reviews about Jonathon French’s The Grey Bastards, which won the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off in 2016, I decided to give it a chance, especially since it was released in hard cover.

grey bastards

 

Finally I picked up James Islington’s An Echo of Things to Come, the second book in his Licanius trilogy, even though I had not yet read the first book, The Shadow of What Was Lost. The price was just too good to pass up.

echo of things to come

 

Book Review: House of Blades by Will Wight

house of bladesFormat:  paperback, revised edition, 2013

Pages:  288

Reading Time:  about 5 hours

One Sentence Synopsis:  A young boy experiences tragedy and vows to save his village, and he achieves the means to do so through willpower and persistence – but finds out that the world isn’t as black and white as he originally thought.

I first heard of Will Wight when I was searching for information on Alec Hutson’s The Crimson Queen prior to purchasing it. I had never heard of Wight before to that, but his name started popping up due to his endorsement of The Crimson Queen. I liked Hutson’s book so much that I thought Wight’s recommendation might mean we had similar tastes, and that maybe I would like Wight’s The Travelers Gate series. So I purchased the first entry, House of Blades, and vowed that if I liked it I would buy and read the following two books. So here’s my review of House of Blades. It’s chock full of spoilers – Wight’s book is so intricately crafted that I won’t be able to explore it without revealing plot points – so read on at your own risk.

I found several “reviews” of House of Blades, but some of them just rehash the synopsis or are very shallow. I’m going to turn to only two of them that I thought made some excellent points. Brian Stewart of Brian’s Book Blog states: “I say it was incredibly surprising because it was very good. Not necessarily something I would consider up there with the best in the fantasy genre, mind you, but it was precisely the kind of fantasy book I like…The parts of the book where Simon learns how to become a Traveler – the magic users in the book – are surreal and compelling. The notion of a characters being trained with strange methods by quirky teachers is not new, nor is the use of strange and magical places where normal rules of time and being don’t apply. But the make up and execution of this part of the book really drew me in, it was done so well. All the constant tests and trials Simon faces were very creatively conceived…Where Alin is dead-set on revenge against the Overlord, Simon is exposed to the war between his kingdom and those that see Alin as their saviour. He is forced to save people who are supposed to be his enemies from his own friends and villagers. He saves his Overlord’s family in the middle of the climactic battle between Alin and the Overlord. And Leah gives the perspective of her kingdom and her father. There might be a good reason why those sacrifices, as brutal as they are, are conducted. It might actually be saving everyone from something worse…The world is fairly creative, though there isn’t much depth to it. The book has a nice pace to it, but the book is fairly short and some parts feel rushed – the magic system and the world building could have used more elaboration for my tastes. The quality of the prose ranges at times between passable to kind of very good, but the construction of the story overall is good to very good. What I love about the book, in the end, is the creativity. The subversion of tropes and expectations reminds me of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn: The Final Empire. The quality of writing isn’t quite up to that standard, however.

Another perspective comes from a site called Wizard’s Blog: “One of the reasons I chose this book was mention in the blurb of the main character not being destined to save the world. The main character being a prophesied hero is such an overused cliche that I appreciate that the author has turned it on its head. As a result of this, the book has unusual dual protagonists – the prophesied hero and the other guy. It’s funny when they get in each other’s way trying to save the day. One of the ways the writing is less than top notch is that the major relationships in the book are not really established. We’re told that the three main characters lived in the same village but didn’t know each other well and then they go off in different directions. It doesn’t result in a lot of reader investment in the relationships. The book also spends almost all of its time with the main character so we don’t learn enough about the other two to understand them well. There was some confusion in the book about the chronology of events – one character got somewhere as a bad thing started, another character arrived there as it ended but somehow they both arrived at the same time. There was no explanation, so I assume it just wasn’t written clearly enough. Unfortunately one of the things that the book glossed over was morality – the main character went from having never killed anyone and having no desire to, to killing 75 people over the course of a couple pages, without enough of a transition or consequences.

These are really great reviews, and Brian nails it when he evokes Brandon Sanderson, because I thought exactly the same thing. The strange thing is, I didn’t really feel that way until I got to the end of the story, and therein lies the heart of Wight’s brilliance and intricate crafting of his plot. The beginning of the story feels unspectacular and full of tropes. I doesn’t help that the prose and dialog is a bit clumsy and doesn’t flow well, and things happen for no apparent reason. For instance, the main character, Simon, is a young boy when his parents are attacked; his father is killed and his mother is driven insane because of a flippant comment his mother makes to two travelers. This event at the outset makes absolutely no sense. Furthermore, Simon is saved by a mysterious figure that he goes looking for later, only to find a different mysterious figure. It makes no sense as to why all these mysterious figures are running around this particular forest. But by the end of the book, though it is not explained outright, some hints are dropped that tie these questionable points together and things begin to make a lot more sense, in a way that reminded me very much of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series.

Then there’s Simon’s training. The second mysterious figure, named Kai, at first rebuffs Simon’s request for training, then acquiesces and to me it wasn’t clear why Kai would waste his time doing so. But then we are given backstory into Kai’s past and what his Territory of Valinhall desires, and once again questionable plot points become more clear. Simon’s training very much reminded me of an anime-inspired video game – there are definitely some Asian and anime influences. Just to clarify, each Traveler has a Territory that they draw power from, which I drew parallels of to Steven Erikson’s concept of Warrens as a place where magic users draw power from. Something I liked about House of Blades was that even if you weren’t born with powers, you could be granted them by the Territory itself (or rather those who dwell in the Territory) if you were found worthy. I also liked the concept of Simon’s power having to recharge so that he had to figure out when to use it and when to recharge, which seemed almost video game-like. It meant that not all of his problems could be solved using unlimited amounts of magic, which was appealing.

The characters are a mixed bag. Simon is a likable enough hero, although his jealousy and competitiveness can be annoying. Still, he’s got some admirable qualities – the desire to save innocent people, willpower, persistence, the years of abuse he suffers in an effort take care of his insane mother, all make him a sympathetic character. However, as Wizard’s Blog states, the morality of the mass killing he must do to rescue the villagers isn’t really explored…that sort of thing changes a person, but it seemed to have little effect on Simon other than in passing. Alin, on the other hand, is far too shallow to have viewpoint devoted to him, but I appreciate his role in Wight’s trope-twisting efforts. Still, it feels like there’s a couple of chapters missing that covers Alin’s training and how and why he gets to the city of Bel Calim when he does. Leah is the most intriguing character – torn between her service to her father and the people of the village she lived with and spied on for two years, she has to make some tough decisions. It’s unclear why the King sent his own daughter away for two years to spy on the villagers – couldn’t he have used someone else? And why were the villagers being spied on? Presumably she was looking for signs of the “Chosen One”, but how did the King know that person would come from Simon’s village? These are questions I’m waiting for answers to. Like Alin, I felt more pages should have been devoted to Leah’s viewpoint.

Other characters are surprisingly deep in the contrasts within their personalities. Chaim, from Simon’s village, goes from being a victim to a “get the torches and pitchfork” villager. The Overlord Malachai is described as vain and lazy, and his methods for obtaining sacrifices are unnecessarily brutal. Yet he loves his family, and in the face of death thinks of the future of the kingdom and how Simon will be an asset. I love the scene where Simon explains that he is there to confront the Overlord for destroying his village and Malachai exclaims, “Seven Stones, I have had more trouble over that village…” I also enjoyed the race called the Nye, who were brilliantly written.

My main problem with House of Blades was, as I mentioned above, not enough pages devoted to Alin and Leah, and I would agree with Brian that more world building was needed. In fact, I think the book suffers from being about 100-120 pages too short. It’s not epic fantasy – more like Sword & Sorcery – but I think Wight could have expanded things a bit and the pace still would have been fine. Also, Alin’s character is a bit unbelievable, as he was able to resist the Overlord’s power and find hidden reserves of strength and magic without an explanation as to how this was possible. Also, the rebellious people of Enosh aren’t given enough time to explain what their outlook is, where their prophecy comes from, and what threat they represent to the kingdom. Occasionally Wight gets a little too cute with his supporting characters, like Andra, the thirteen year old girl that Simon rescues who acts flippant during the rescue, and later has improbably defeated some of the trials in Valinhall (although it is hinted that the Nye may have helped). Finally, as I also mentioned above, at times the prose and dialog is choppy and does not flow smoothly.

These issues are all minor criticisms, however, and I thoroughly enjoyed House of Blades. Despite some early struggles, persevering and investing in the story paid off, and by the end I was shaking my head at Wight’s cleverness. I even went back to re-read the first two chapters after I had finished the book, and it was amazing how many little clues Wight dropped early on and how the pieces began to fit into place for me. It is in this context that the intricacies of the plot, including the “maybe the bad guy was really not as bad as we thought” aspect that had me making comparisons to Mistborn. So I’m moving forward with ordering the sequels The Crimson Vault and City of Light, hoping for more of the same excellence I found here.

 

Shuffling Of Books To Read

I was set to start reading Steven Erikson’s House of Chains a few days ago when I got a notice from Amazon that Cameron Johnston’s The Traitor God was being delivered on the 7th (today). I wanted to get to The Traitor God right away, but that looked impossible if I started on House of Chains…it seems the page count that I extracted from Amazon was way off of the actual page count of the copy that I have by a couple of hundred pages.

I decided instead to read Will Wight’s House of Blades, which is a lot shorter. Since I’m out of town right now anyway, I brought it with me and will hopefully be done by this weekend. A review will follow shortly after that, and then I will tackle The Traitor God and House of Chains in that order.

Book Review: The Black Shriving by Phil Tucker

black shrivingFormat:  oversized paperback, self-published first edition, 2016

Pages:  499

Reading Time:  about 12 hours

One Sentence Synopsis: Asho and Kethe seek the truth behind the second Black Gate and the Black Shriving, Audsley struggles to learn the secrets of the Sin Casters, Iskra seeks help from heretics, and Tharok’s plans take a surprising turn.

In my review of Phil Tucker’s The Path of Flames, I enjoyed it quite a bit and ordered the sequel, The Black Shriving. Interestingly enough, although I found several reviews of The Path of Flames, I only found one review of The Black Shriving (other than Goodreads, Amazon or a forum). My own review follows, and beware of spoilers not only for this book, but also for The Path of Flames.

 

J.C Kang of Fantasy Faction, who also reviewed The Path of Flames, had this to say about The Black Shriving: “In The Black Shriving, we adventure deeper into the supernatural side of the world. We learn about the connection between the demons and magic, and how they are related to some of the concepts introduced in The Path of Flames. If you were curious as to why Asho’s and Tharok’s swords were so similar, well, we can make new guesses now. We visit new, magical places like Starkadr and The Black Gate…We also get to travel to Agerastos, which has its own culture and a religion based on the worship of Medusas – coincidentally, or perhaps not so coincidentally, the same object of idolatry by the ancient Kragh…The mechanics of sincasting is further explained, as is the relationship between The Black Gate and gate stone, or as the Kragh call it, shaman stone. It feels as if the connections that were hinted at in book one are built upon in book two, like the physical cost of sincasting, and how it can be transferred to someone else or abated by gate stone; and how someone’s connection to the White Gate causes them to burn out, yet can be balanced by the black potion seen in the opening scene of The Path of Flames…Just as in The Path of Flames, the core driver of conflict is not love triangles and the quest for popularity, but rather, religious dogma. It takes the form of internal cultural struggle like the Kragh torn between the old worship of the Sky God and the more ancient reverence of medusas; or individual internal struggle with the validity of Ascension; or the cross-cultural wars between Ascension and Agerastos.”

 

In the first book, I was impressed by the careening, unpredictable nature of the story, the epic world-building, and the nobility of Wyland’s character. In The Black Shriving, the story careens less and becomes more predictable, as the plot is laid out from the very beginning, and there aren’t any major surprises (from a plot standpoint) along the way, except for Tharok’s story. The epic world building becomes, dare I say, even more epic, as the source of much of the magic power in the world is revealed in jaw-dropping fashion. And Wyland’s character? Let’s just say that blind devotion to his religion had me switching my allegiance to other characters. So in that respect, it sounds like I consider The Black Shriving as being the exact opposite of The Path of Flames.

And although I enjoyed The Path of Flames a bit more, The Black Shriving still has a lot to offer. The highlight of the book involves Audsley’s character. His discoveries regarding the secrets of the sincasters, the source of much of the magic in the world, and the powers he develops are pretty amazing. Also, Tharok’s character takes the story in a surprising direction that has me very intrigued. His story arc in the first book was a bit disjointed from the others, but in The Black Shriving we begin to see how his story will tie in to the rest, and how dangerous he is about to become. It’s also possible to speculate where the power behind the circlet comes from, and why his shaman is very adamant against using it, as well as being opposed to a new power which Tharok discovers from a chance meeting with human (who I suspect is more than he seems).

One of the problems I had with The Path of Flames – sudden and frequent changes in emotion is no longer noticeable. The nebulous magic system becomes suddenly a lot clearer now, but there is still a problem that I struggled with, mainly that the powers of Asho and Kethe are at times ridiculous. It takes the action sequences and monsters from The Path of Flames and, to borrow a phrase from Cameron Johnston, turns them up to 11. Some of the fight scenes remind me of over-the-top action movies and video games like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, or perhaps God of War. It’s still entertaining, but these sequences are so unbelievable that Tucker will have the difficult task of topping each previous sequence as his story progresses. One positive way that Tucker is handling this involves the consequences of using such copious amounts of magic. (Spoiler Alert!) By the end of the story, Kethe and Asho are physically in bad shape, even dying, due to the cost of using their magical abilities.

If I have one other minor criticism of the book, it is the punishment that the heroes take but still persevere. From hidden reserves of strength to being in shock, from life-threatening wounds to enduring high levels of pain, the heroes manage to have just enough to get them through. It is unbelievable and a bit too much at times, but Tucker manages to (mostly) make it work because of the tension he creates, the wild action sequences, and because he makes you care about the characters and you want to find out what happens them, which is hard to do if they are unconscious or dead! And depth of character is where Tucker is really hitting his stride in this second book. Kethe and Asho form a bond that was somewhat unexpected based on Kethe’s beliefs and upbringing. Like every other viewpoint character in the book, she undergoes life-altering changes. How would you feel if you knew your entire belief system, the one that drives your entire society, was a lie? Kethe comes to see Asho not as a low class Bythian slave, but as an equal, and even develops an affection towards him. She starts to see that it is better to judge someone on their merits rather than their on their appearance or where they were born. It is a change of tremendous growth.

Her mother Iskra goes through the same change in beliefs, and is willing to overthrow an empire to right injustices. In fact, Iskra might be the single most important character in this series. Her standing and upbringing help her in the negotiations with the Agerasterians, and her ability to overcome the damage her former husband wrought while bending people and events to her path with nothing but her will is some damn fine writing. I greatly admire her character, despite a moment of weakness when she believes she might be able to right the wrongs done to her while clinging to that old belief system. It nearly costs her life to do so, and her naivete only makes her more human. After that costly mistake she leaves those beliefs behind and sets up some intriguing possibilities in the next book. Tiron, her on-again, off-again love interest, also manages to impress me, and as Wyland’s character recedes, I turned my allegiance to Tiron. Finally, I’ve already mentioned above some of the changes to Audsley and Tharok, which I found the most compelling. Tucker has really nailed his characterizations, and that feat is worthy of high praise. The final point I’d like to mention is that a few minor new characters enter the story, but The Black Shriving is almost exclusively hero-driven, in a way much like a Terry Brooks story is. I also should mention that there is a little more gore and vulgarity compared to the previous book,  if you find that sort of thing offensive.

By the end of The Black Shriving, there are many unanswered questions…we still don’t know much more about the second black gate, why Asho is drawn to it, or what is physically happening to Kethe and Audsley. Why does the Black Shriving only come once a year? What other secrets will the legendary Starkadr reveal? How will Iskra and the Agerasterians topple the Empire, and how will Tharok impact this? I really enjoyed the story despite the minor flaws, and Tucker has done a great job of maintaining tension, revealing secrets, and developing characters. With more of the same and some unpredictability in the plot, the next book in the series, The Siege of Abythos, could be outstanding. I’m looking forward to ordering it and adding it to the queue.