Published by: self-published
ISBN 13: 9780993003738
Published: June 2017
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five
Read for the SPFBO, this is the another that I chose to further consider out of my initial 30, trying to whittle them all down to a single title to put forward to the other judges.
Wynn has been given to a temple ‘just for a year’ in order to serve the priests – which turns out to be working in a backbreaking mine as they need to collect ores for various reasons. He’s constantly asking questions, constantly called an idiot, and we don’t really get to see much else of his personality in this pretty horrid place. Though everyone around him acts rough, they certainly help him out for some unexplained reason (heavy lifting, gentle explaining) and then are suddenly callous again. There’s a quota they have to meet else they’ll be lashed, there’s some terrifying ‘call’ in the deep black where they throw the waste rock, and their only chance at getting out of the mines is if they happen to show some slight talent – though where these chosen go to, no one is quite sure. We do of course learn this through Wynn, eventually.
The oppression and deep blackness of the mines and shafts certainly paints a picture. Wynn struggles to breathe, struggles to see, and is pretty much thrown in the deep end without much explanation of what they’re even mining for (well, he knows gold, but not how to seek it), or how any safety techniques may work to save his own life or those around him. There’s little to no hope in this world. This is effective shown rather than told, rather than Wynn’s personality and character which we’re told of often, and just simply rarely see anything contrary to the matter.
With Wynn (initially) in the mines, we also have a secondary main character, Kharios, who is above in the Temple, also a novice, apparently where all those in the mines aspire (or, like Wynn when he was given to the religion, expected to be when they first arrives). As their religion and gods somehow all revolves around the Forgefather, a lot of his novice duties revolve around learning smithery. Hence the mining.
Not that their gods have been heard of for a very long time.
As if the conditions aren’t bad enough both above and below, there is of course also rape and bullying, which made this book a pretty hard read at times. While it certainly felt realistic I’m not overly sure it was needed (or could have been alluded to) as it slowed down the plot and honestly just made you wonder why more of the novices didn’t just throw themselves off something tall much more often – there’s not exactly anything in their lives to look forward to.
This is set pretty firmly in the grimdark sub-genre, however while it hit that nail pretty well on the head and the writing was basically good (the pacing needed some work perhaps), this also felt like it doesn’t really go anywhere until the very last final bit of the book… and then it’s over.
This is a dark and brutal read, but well written and well delivered.