Format: paperback, first edition (signed by author), 2017
Reading Time: about 12 hours
One Sentence Synopsis: As the Spider King and his allies and minions seek to increase their power while General Fane seems to be deliberately losing the war, it’s up to Lannick, Bale, and Gamghast to stand against them, while Fencress despairs over the changes that have transformed Karnag into something out of nightmares.
Author David Benem provided me with a signed copy of The Wrath of Heroes last year, free of charge. While that was quite generous and I appreciate the gesture, that in no way influences my review. I didn’t ask for a free copy, and as a reader I look for unbiased reviews when choosing to spend my money on a book, so there’s no way I’m going to dupe someone else in the hope of getting more free books and lose all credibility. This review will also be unique in the fact that I didn’t find any guest reviews to spotlight.
The first thing I noticed about the book on receiving it was the sheer meatiness. Weighing in at 520 pages, it is noticeably thicker than the 396 pages of the previous entry. This lends some serious consideration to the notion that this is a book to be taken seriously and promises more depth than the first book. So with that said, I’ll proceed with my thoughts, and try to point out spoilers ahead of time. There may also be spoilers for What Remains of Heroes here, so enter with caution.
In my review of the previous book in the series, What Remains of Heroes, I stated that the action was a bit lacking, but that I had heard that the sequel was better in that regard. This is absolutely true. Those 520 pages that I mentioned above are packed with tense travels through hostile areas, the infiltration of a Necrist stronghold, and an all-out battle for the town of Riverweave, as well as showdowns between multiple characters and their nemeses. The Wrath of Heroes exceeded my expectations in regard to action sequences. While not a thrill ride like Cameron Johnston’s The Traitor God, there is more than enough action here to satisfy the reader. That Benem manages to do this while developing both his main and supporting characters is an impressive feat. I did struggle a couple of times to envision how some of the sequences were playing out, so I think Benem can improve on his descriptions of spacial relationship between characters as well as between them and the environment in which the sequence takes place. I also think that because of the heightened focus on more action and character development, the worldbuilding has lessened – there isn’t quite as much to be found here as there is in the first book – but that is a minor quibble. Benem did such a good job with it in the first book, that what is found in The Wrath of Heroes suffices. Between Bale and Gamghast’s discoveries, the Necrist Tower, The Spider King, and the revelation of two more Sentinels, plus the evolution of Karnag’s character, I feel that there’s plenty of material that indirectly supports the worldbuilding aspect.
The characters continue to be a mixed bag. It’s okay for characters to have flaws, but the degree to which Lannick and Bale struggle is at times frustrating. Benem is really walking a tightrope here. Lannick and Bale are so weak, their struggles are so great, that it often seems like they succeed in spite of themselves, not because of talent or noble character. While these flaws do serve to humanize them and helps them avoid falling into stereotypical tropes, it also makes them less compelling and the end effect is that the supporting characters are far more interesting. This results in disappointment, because instead of reading about those more interesting characters, I’m stuck focusing on ones that I don’t care as much about. Characters like The Spider King, Lorra, Alisa, Wil, and Queen Reyis all deserve more page time.
In an interesting twist that started back in the middle of What Remains of Heroes, Fencress and Karnag have switched places, where Fencress has become a main character and Karnag a supporting one. This is a good choice, too, as Fencress continues to be one of the best, if not the best, characters in the story. The villains of the story like Fain, Alamis, and the dread Necrists are easy to root against. Karnag remains a puzzle to solve, and I have no idea where is character arc is headed, while Fencriss slowly loses hope that she can save him. That unpredictability is a good thing! It’s also worth noting that I didn’t feel as detached from the characters as I did in the first book. Lannick’s emotional instability is still often frustrating, but at least his path to redemption has taken a step forward and he is not as much of a drag on the story this time around. Bale is probably my least favorite character now, and his whining, crying, and constant terror at anything that moves is pretty annoying, but fortunately there are plenty of other characters that lessen his personality’s effect on the story. For what it’s worth, Bale’s part in the story is important, as the Sentinels will surely have a big part to play in the future.
Benem’s plot winds tightly through the book, and I had no idea where it was going. There were several times when I thought I knew what was going to happen, and Benem took the story in a different direction or just flat out surprised me. This unpredictability also adds to the compelling nature of the book. Benem’s not averse to killing off characters, even evil ones, earlier than I expected, in order to advance the plot. It is rather refreshing. The editing seems a little better this time around and nothing stood out to me as a problem…not that it was a big issue in the first book. The writing just seems to be incredibly polished for a self-published novel. The cover art is good and the map at the front of the book is appreciated, although I didn’t really refer to it since I had looked at it previously on Benem’s blog. I should also mention that there are some grimdark elements in the book, so if swearing, severed limbs and torture bother you, best to look elsewhere. It really didn’t bother me at all.
SPOILER ALERT! There are a couple of scenes in the book that I found really compelling. One involved Lannick’s confinement and transport in a coffin, and the moment where hope of escape arrives had me on the edge of my seat. I also enjoyed Bale, Lorra and Alisa moving through the Spider King’s tower and their subsequent showdown with the Necrists. Perhaps the best sequence in the book involves Karnag facing off against the Spider King. All of those moments were memorable long after the pages of the book had closed.
In conclusion, Benem has crafted an action-packed tale that is better than the first book, showing that his writing has improved from the first book to the second. While the main characters are at times a chore to follow, and the worldbuilding has been dialed back a bit, the action, pace, and compelling scenes more than make up for it. When I look at other books I’ve reviewed from 2017 so far, I’d say The Wrath of Heroes is as good as Battle Mage, which I really enjoyed, and far above Forsaken Kingdom. With the increase in self-publishing currently in play that has opened the doors for authors like Benem, this book is proof that such self-published books can offer just as much enjoyment as a published one, but this is entirely dependent on the skill of the author. In The Wrath of Heroes, Benem shows he has that skill. This sets the bar high for The Ruin of Heroes, the third and final book in the series, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed…if Benem can make the leap between his second and third books that he did between the first and second books, I expect The Ruin of Heroes to be outstanding. No pressure, Mr. Benem!