#SPFBO Review : The Archbishop’s Amulet (The Windhaven Chronicles) by Watson Davis

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archThe Archbishop’s Amulet is one of my remaining four books for the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off and my final review.  I will be choosing a winner later today but wanted first to review each of my final books.

This book certainly falls into the category of grimdark.  Don’t be fooled by the younger age of some of the main characters, this is downright harsh, dark and brutal.  Thankfully, at the same time the author does manage to give you this tiny edge of hope that keeps you clinging to the pages and reading on willing things to work out.

At the beginning of the book we witness an exchange between some traders and the Onei tribal leader of the Brightfox Clan.  This is our first sighting of Caldane, the chief’s son who is currently in training to be a Shaman.

From there we jump forward.  War has swept the nation and the Nayen Empire have conquered virtually all in their path.  Caldane’s tribe has been all but annihilated and he is being held a prisoner, a slave of the Empress.  His only thoughts lead to escape and survival.  The Nayen regularly use slaves in their dark magic, sacrificing them in part of their rituals to call demons and gather power.  Caldane has managed to survive these sacrifices simply by the strength of his own magical ability and has in fact been unwittingly contributing to the sacrifices by lending his own magic to the proceedings.

As Caldane attempts to escape one night he finds himself taking an extra person, a young boy called Rucker, also desperate to escape.  Let’s face it – everyone would want to escape this hell.  The escape attempt ultimately fails, what Caldane could have achieved alone is not possible with a much younger child in tow, but when he is returned he overhears something that gives him a whole new purpose.  His mother still lives and is being held captive by General Silverhewer at the fortress in Windhaven.  The knowledge that his mother is alive gives Caldane a whole new purpose and he once again breaks free, this time accompanied by more than one child.

From here the story becomes a fight for survival.  Caldane has taken an amulet that belonged to the Archbishop Diyune, a gift from the Empress that was vital to the rituals.  Of course this makes his recovery essential and all the forces of the enemy are being used in his pursuit including an army of orcs.

The main character is Caldane.  He’s resourceful, capable and tough.  He hasn’t had a pampered upbringing and as a result he’s able to look after himself.  His companions are Cole, Rucker and Aissal.  Cole has led a life of privilege, Rucker is little more than a chlld who wants to return home to his parents and Aissal a young woman, blue skinned and apparently alien.  I’m not totally sure that I understand enough about Aissal to speak confidently about her.  Like Caldane she shares a magical ability that gives her healing abilities.  I liked her as a character although she does come across as hopelessly optimistic in the face of such evil.

What works here is the way in which the friendships develop, Caldane knows that he’s hampering his own escape and yet he starts to form a bond with these others becoming almost responsible for them and wanting to deliver them back to their homes.  Don’t get me wrong, sometimes they just annoyed me, running wilfully into danger – but then they’re little more than children so of course they’re not always cautious.  Again, I realise that I’m talking here about a good few of the characters being children and that might seem off putting but this isn’t a young feeling book, it’s just a book about desperate characters trying to escape from dreadful slavery.  The range of characters extends to many more than this small group and the beauty of them all is they feel real, they run the gamut from good to evil but they’re not as simple or straightforward as that.

The world building.  Well, at the risk of sounding redundant this place is not a place you want to go to.  The new rulers hold sway (obviously I suppose), but more than that the conquered are dominated completely, subdued and in fact controlled, little more than puppets, they’re not just beaten, they’re literally broken. Life is cheap in this new order, blood and souls essential for the dark magic.  It’s a statement to the evil that people will commit in the name of ambition.  This isn’t just about conquering people it’s almost like whole scale massacre and ruin.

Overall this was a thoroughly engrossing read.  It gets off to a great start, the hook of Caldane and where he is, why, what’s going on, and, then getting on board with the whole idea of him breaking free.  Frankly, I just wanted him to run for the hills and keep running but the story is about more than just running away.

In terms of criticisms, well, this can be quite bloody and violent – the initial scenes, with the cleaning up after the sacrificing – may not be for everyone.  However, it’s not all bloody guts and graphic details, there’s a very good story going on here.  The other quibble I had was the ending felt a little rushed but that’s probably just me expecting it to go on a little longer and I certainly did want more – the ending doesn’t feel complete, it’s clear there’s more coming and I would like to know what happens next.

Overall I thought this was a really intriguing story.  It definitely compelled me to read on quickly and once I started I knew that I had to carry on.  I would certainly wish to read a follow up if one was forthcoming.

 

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7 Responses to “#SPFBO Review : The Archbishop’s Amulet (The Windhaven Chronicles) by Watson Davis”

  1. vacuouswastrel

    Huh. Must admit, from that title and that that cover (and that font!) I’d assumed this was going to be a comedy… or at least ‘quirky’. Grimdark sacrificeporn would not have been my guess.

  2. #SPFBO Finalist | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] The Archbishop’s Amulet by Watson Davis […]

  3. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    Hmm, now I’m so curious to see which book you will put forth to the finals. The reviews for all your possible picks so far have been fantastic, tbh. I’m intrigued by all of them!

  4. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    A fight for survival, a group of virtual strangers thrown together by chance, forced to cooperate and slowly bonding with each other – these are elements I find attractive and might help me overcome the grim-darkness of the overall story. Quite intriguing, thanks for sharing! 🙂

  5. sjhigbee

    This sounds like a really interesting read. The premise is fascinating, though the grimdarkness doesn’t appeal. Thank you for another quality review, Lynn.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yeah, perhaps I shouldn’t have focused on the grimdark – but, the start with the cleaning up after the sacrificing is pretty grim and dark so I felt it should be said. I know it’s not for everyone though and I don’t like putting people off because others might think differently but… there it is.
      Lynn 😀

      • sjhigbee

        No – I really appreciate your mentioning it. Because right now isn’t a good time of year for me – I have a tendency to struggle with the short days – so I actively avoid anything too dark during December and January. Thank you!

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