It is challenging to sit at one’s desk and decide to write a book but it is even more challenging to write a good book. It adds even more complexity to write an incredible story with great characters, engineer a unique world (which is not so simple in the fantasy genre these days), with scary (genuinely scary) villains, and also maintain an action-packed plot that addresses emotions as well.
This is what Ed McDonald accomplished with his debut novel, which is incredible as it is something that few can do and I am happy to say I became an instant Ed McDonald fan. Truth be told, I was sold in the acknowledgment section of the book—it is witty and funny, a dry humor that I like. If you have an opportunity, take a look at that page and a half, and if it makes you laugh, then this is a book for you!
Long story short, this is a 5 out of 5 stars book!
Let’s start by the world building. There aren’t spoilers in this section as this is all part of the description of the story. There are two main factions: Humans that live in the Republic and the archenemies called Dead Kings. The Republic and the Dead Kings’ domains are separated by a piece of land called the Misery, a place where people do not want to go, unless one is desperate, stupid, or greedy. Death is an essential part of Misery with dangers at all times and it is an extremely difficult place to navigate—despite having three moons of different colors, which come with poetic descriptions. In short, Misery is deadly.
In addition to this partition of the world, there is also a magic system that will trigger the interest of those who love dwarves in World of Warcraft; there is a sophisticated system which requires natural talent to wield magic that is powered by batteries. There are also other interesting powers, which I will not describe further because it would rob you of great plot twists of the story!
The writing style is best described as effective. It is descriptive, yet practical; it conveys the difficulty the characters face, the underlining urgency that the events lead our heroes (probably more anti-heroes).
Both the UK and US covers are just breathtaking. Especially the one designed by Dan Smith. It just conveys the essence of who the main character is and what his job is. It is just beautiful in its simplicity and genius in the choosing of the artwork.
Furthermore, if you are ever looking for a Halloween read, this would fit the bill: it is grimdark, often spooky, gory in many details and it has a cast of characters that would serve very well as inspiration for a Halloween costume!
One last note before entering into the spoilery part of the post: If you love audiobooks, this is a great one to choose. Colin Mace, the narrator, does an absolute outstanding job in conveying the content of the story, the essence of the characters, the urgency and drama of the story.
The story is told through the eye of Captain Ryhalt Galharrow, a hard soldier with a tragic past that haunts him throughout the story. He commands a small group of loyal soldiers, Nenn and Tnota, who are the main supporting characters of Ryhalt. Both play key roles in the decisions Ryhalt makes and they are powerful allies, especially Nenn.
Another essential character to the story is Ezbeth, a woman with incredible magic abilities, which come in handy during several occasions throughout the story. She is the task that Crowfoot—Ryhalt’s boss and a Nameless (more on this later)—imposes on Ryhalt. Ryhalt shares a past with her and he is drawn to her. Most importantly, Ezbeth is the key to unravel a conspiracy (or is it?) where the only defense against the Dead Kings, called Nall’s Engine, is not working. In other words, the Republic has no defense against the Dead Kings and if they found out, there would be no way for humans to stop the Dead Kings from conquering the world.
The natural opponents to the Dead Kings are not humans but the Nameless, a group of extremely powerful and old beings whose goal is to permanently defeat the Dead Kings. I would even say that this statement is the key to interpret the whole book, almost like the deus-ex-machina mechanism of the story, which gave the book that additional layer of awesome complexity and, ultimately, the quid pluris to give the book 5 stars out of 5.
The characters, Ryhalt most of all, are extremely likable. They are not heroes, they are anti-heroes, they are brutal and strong, hardened by difficult lives, by war and conflict, and yet, they are human, soft and vulnerable. They unfold throughout the book and they become faceted, complex and, ultimately, relatable characters. There are some who are just scary, such as Saravor, and even Crowfoot; yet the first is a pure concentration of evil and the second is interesting and he is tip-toed around so much that it almost forces the reader to know more. The other characters are complementary to the story, some are heroes who are twisted into something different, tortured and used against their will.
The book also deals with extremely darker themes, from violence, to torture; from asylum for the mentally ill to politics; from death to sever injuries; from loss of family to loss of identity; from twisted friendship to manipulation.
Have you read this book? Tell us what you think in the comments below!
SYNOPSIS | Goodreads
Nothing in the Misery lasts… Under a cracked and wailing sky, the Misery is a vast and blighted expanse, created when the Engine, the most powerful weapon in the world, was unleashed against the immortal Deep Kings. Across the wasteland, teeming with corrupted magic and malevolent wraiths, the Deep Kings and their armies are still watching—and still waiting.
Ryhalt Galharrow is no stranger to the Misery. The bounty hunter journeys to a remote outpost, armed for killing both men and monsters, and searching for a mysterious noblewoman. He finds himself in the middle of a shocking attack by the Deep Kings, one that should not be possible. Only a fearsome show of power from the very woman he is seeking saves him.
Once, long ago, he knew the woman well, and together they stumble onto a web of conspiracy that threatens to unmake everything they hold dear and end the fragile peace the Engine has provided. Galharrow is not ready for the truth about the blood he’s spilled and the gods he’s supposed to serve…