Review: Faithless by Graham Austin-King

The temples of the Forgefather have fallen. The clerics and defenders that could once be found across the nine lands are no more. Priests huddle in the great temple, clinging to the echoes of their lost religion. But the Father has fallen silent. There are none who still hear his voice.

The mines of Aspiration lie far below the temple's marble halls. Slaves toil in the blackness, striving to earn their way into the church and the light. Wynn has been sold into this fate, traded for a handful of silver. In the depths of the mines, where none dare carry flame, he must meet his tally or die. But there are things that lurk in that darkness, and still darker things within the hearts of men.

When the souls bound to the great forge are released in a failed ritual, one novice flees down into the darkness of the mines. The soulwraiths know only hunger, the risen know only hate. In the blackest depths Kharios must seek a light to combat the darkness which descends.

5 of 5 stars!

This book has been on my radar since it came out two years ago. I finally made room for it between review requests. I had heard so many great things about it and went in with high expectations. I've been excited about reading this book for so long. I only hoped it would come close to the praise I'd heard. Despite all that, I was not prepared for what this book would do. Faithless shocked me and enthralled me and completely blew past all my highest hopes. It's original, immersive, and dark, with raw fear and a faint speck of hope. 

We hear a lot about fight or flight, but if you study self-defense for a little while, you'll find out there are actually three responses: fight, flight or freeze. Our poor main character, Wynn, freezes up in the face of violence and fear. It makes him oh so relatable. He's not a coward, he's not a hero. He is trying to survive, and sometimes such survival leans on the darkest side of desperation. 

Wynn is new to the faith, having been sold to the temple by his father. He's a skeptic to begin with and thrown into a dwindling religion, he's trying to make the best of it, but it's a difficult path ahead of him. The old church has fallen from its days of glory, shrunk considerably in size, wealth, and knowledge. Corrupt and ignorant, yet full of old ritual, the worshippers of the Forgefather have few options in their future. Wynn starts out in the mines and works hard to learn forging in hopes of earning his way into the temple, which he presumes would be an easier life. 

As if to answer Wynn's assumptions, we also follow the character Kharios, an novice priest who serves in the temple. Through his experiences, we learn firsthand what life there is like, the trials and chores he must perform, and the teachers and priests he must obey. Kharios is a hard worker, but lacks confidence, and the tragic circumstances around his training don't help his unsteady faith. 

It was better not to look at the carnage. It was even better to not see that the carnage was looking back.

Denial, survival, acknowledging the darkest depths of humanity, the author doesn't flinch from troubling themes. Neither does he flinch from plumbing the depths of the human spirit. While the climate and characters are full of cynicism or conspiracy, there is room for hope, and Austin-King pushes these characters past their breaking points to find the stuff they're truly made of. 

Faithless is a new all-time favorite novel for me. This story had me gasping at the horror and the grace, the darkness and the fragile truth. Well done, bravo to Mr. Austin-King! I would give a standing ovation to this one, and I want so badly to see a movie adaptation.

You can find it here on Amazon or here on Goodreads.

Review: Lost Lore: A Fantasy Anthology

Hidden pasts. Secrets untold. Legends half-remembered. Fifteen fantasy writers gather to bring fifteen tales to life, each one a unique glimpse into a wholly original world. 

In worlds ravaged by flood, fire, and frost, mere mortals strive to make their own legends amidst demons and deities alike. And in lands racked with human strife—where evil endures and no one is ever safe—scarred heroes fight forces even darker than their own personal demons. 

Why do they fight? Some seek to better the world, or themselves. Others are out to right old wrongs. But whatever their goal - reward, redemption, or just respite - the truth will out eventually. For no story is ever truly lost so long as there exists one to tell it.

4 of 5 stars

This is a great way to sample indie authors you may have heard a lot about or enjoy new stories from your favorites. Like many anthologies, there were some stories I loved and others I struggled to finish. The theme of lost lore works well here, though. There's a prevalent mood that the reader might stumble upon some hidden secret at any moment. It is interesting to see the different ways authors interpreted the theme, some extremely inventive.

A few stories that stood out the most for me include "And They Were Never Heard From Again" by Benedict Patrick, "I, Kane" by Laura M. Hughes, "The Huntress" by Michael R. Miller, "The Prisoner" by Phil Tucker, and "The First Thread" by Alec Hutson.

If you're looking for sword and sorcery steeped in lore, where history or myths are important parts of the story, be sure to check out this collection!

You can find it here on Amazon or here on Goodreads.

Review: Fallen Empire by Keith McArdle

Assassin-for-hire Vyder Ironstone is on a mission for the King of Wendurlund. While the pay’s good, the odds are not, since the task requires him to travel deep into enemy territory. But first, there’s the little problem of his death to overcome, not to mention a malcontent travelling companion with no love for humanity and a deadly purpose of his own. Vyder had better find a way to deal with both, and quickly, because, controlled by an unseen power, hordes of giant spiders have attacked the capital. Facing vast numbers, Commander Tork of the King’s Own and his small troop of elite soldiers won’t be able to hold the walls for long. Vyder’s quest is vital: he must not fail, or the empire will fall.

3.5 of 5 stars

This book is divided into three distinct parts. Each part has multiple point of view characters specific to that section of the story. They are so distinct, I think they would even function as individual novellas. For me, parts one and two were much stronger than part three in terms of character development and story progression.

Part one follows a slave after she discovers her master, Vyder, is dying. He has given her better treatment than most slaves would receive, and she desperately wants to save his life out of fear her next master would not be kind. Vyder is also the hero the kingdom is counting on, so the stakes of his survival are pretty high.

In part two, a nearby walled city is under attack. Large spiders and wolves are sneaking in and killing citizens. Initial reports can hardly be believed, but as the days pass the conflict escalates. The city is pushed further into despair as the casualties multiply with each night. This was my favorite part of the book. The tension was ever-present and the characters well-developed.

Part three involves a plot to find and rescue the prince of Wenderlund. He has been kidnapped by a hostile neighboring kingdom and his fate is uncertain. The beginning of this part was bold and exciting, but as I read through it, I had trouble connecting with the characters, and some of the circumstances of the story seemed overly coincidental to me.

All in all, it's a strong opening book to a series, and the sequel is available now, too. If you're looking for a quick, entertaining sword & sorcery read, check it out.

You can find it here on Amazon or here on Goodreads.