#SPFBO Review: The Forever King (The Scalussen Chronicles #1) by Ben Galley

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Stage 2 of the  SPFBO competition is now well underway and the Critiquing Chemist and I have been reading the finalists.  Today we post our review for our sixth finalist The Forever King by Ben Galley.  Don’t forget to stop over to the Critiquing Chemist to check out their review.

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If you love your fantasy epic then The Forever King could be just the book you’re looking for.  This is the first in the Scalussen Chronicles and it has an almost old school fantasy feel with battles, magic, mythical creatures, Gods, dragons and plenty of twists and turns.

This is a story from the same world as Galley’s Emaneska series but I wouldn’t say that I had any issues picking this up without having read the earlier novels.  That being said, clearly if you decide to start your reading at this point you will probably unwittingly spoil the earlier series for yourself so be aware of that before you make this your starting point.  So, for example, as much as I’m interested in reading The Written and reading more about Farden’s backstory, I probably won’t backtrack now I’ve started the Scalussen Chronicles.

As the story begins we meet a group of children scavenging wreckage on the shore.  Unfortunately what starts out as an innocent game has grim repercussions and becomes the trigger for bloodshed and destruction.  A number of the children are taken captive and this eventually is the platform used to reveal the duplicity behind the Emperor’s ban on magick.

From here on the fate of the children from the village diverges and we predominantly follow Mithrid who is taken to the rebel fortress.  

I liked the world that Galley has imagined and the magick that he’s come up with.  Magick has been forbidden for many years now, the purge drove magick users underground and many look to the Forever King and his rebel movement to free them from the tyranny of the current emperor.  The irony of course is that although magick has been banned and its use punishable by death the emperor searches for ways to use it himself to strengthen his ranks.  The world is poised on the brink of the war and it takes only one trickster God to push it into action and for the empire’s forces to descend on the rebel fort with the intention to finally wipe out the Forever King.

There are a few characters to follow along with.  Mithrid who is well drawn and goes through a range of emotions.  Grieving for the life she has lost she eventually settles on a need for vengeance that overrides everything else.  Farden is the Forever King – he also struggles with the expectations of others and his role as hero and saviour doesn’t sit easy with him.  Farden is one of a few characters known as the ‘written’ which basically means his back is tattooed with spell runes.  The process of writing a ‘book’ onto a person’s back is a difficult one to survive but having survived it the runes give the written a lot of power and Farden’s magical abilities are practically unparalleled.  Malvus is the tyrant emperor intent on stamping out magick whilst at the same time seeking to create his own ‘written’.  I liked the characters but to be totally honest I didn’t feel like I totally connected with them, or, at least I struggled to initially, probably half the book at least before I felt like I really got on board,  Which isn’t to say I was finding it hard to read because that’s the furthest thing from the actual truth.  I was always happy to pick this up and considering the length of the book it felt like a breeze to read which is a testament to the writing which I liked a lot.

The plot in a nutshell is the age old strife of good vs evil.  I really liked that Galley used the deception/hypocrisy/ propoganda tool as an intrinsic part of the Empire’s rule and the way to keep the general populace in the dark.  Farden has plenty of followers and believers who want to free magick users from the oppressive lives they lead, but, make no mistake, the Empire is a huge force to be reckoned with.  In the past the rebellion has mainly been involved in small skirmishes and hasty getaways but with the appearance of a God on the scene the balance is tipped and Malvus assembles a huge army to wipe out the rebellion once and for all.

In terms of criticisms.  I felt to an extent that some of the world building was a little thin but at the same time I appreciate that writing from an already established world is something of a balancing act. There was also a little foreshadowing at certain points that took away some of the tension and also a slight feeling of things conveniently working out.

Slight issues aside, I felt this was an enjoyable epic-old-school-type fantasy and I would be interested in continuing the series to see where Galley takes these characters next.

My thanks to the author for a review copy.  the above is my own opinion.

My rating 7.5 out of 10 stars (I would round up to 4 stars of 5 for Goodreads).

2019 Rewind Challenge

I saw this challenge over on Books Bones and Buffy.  Tammy has come up with this idea to try and catch up, during the second half of the year, with some of the books that have passed by unread and are now sitting waiting patiently on the tbr.  We all know how easily this happens and once it does those books seem to get forgotten in the relentless pursuit of the new shiny releases.  I really like this idea and decided I want to join the challenge.  There’s still almost half a year and so if I choose six of the books that I’ve already undertaken to read and put them on my challenge then I’m hoping it will keep me on track.

So, here are the books I’ve chosen, I’ve gone for a combination of books requested from Netgalley, purchases and a couple of books from authors who were gracious enough to offer me the second books in their series:

Two books from authors – with deep apologies for not yet having picked these up:

Two books fairly recently purchased – I am determined to strike a balance between review books and those I buy:

And finally, two Netgalley books that I was really excited to be approved for but kind of lost the plot with my scheduling and simply couldn’t fit them in:

Chasing Graves (The Chasing Graves Trilogy Book #1) by Ben Galley

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Image credit: Photo by Mark Tegethoff on Unsplash

Today I’m reviewing Ben Galley’s most recent book Chasing Graves which, with it’s dark subject matter is definitely a good read for not only this time of year but also for Wyrd and Wonder’s Spooktastic reads event.

Chasing Graves Cover Reveal 6It’s unusual to pick up a book where the main protagonist is murdered from virtually the start but that’s the case here.  Caltro Basalt is a locksmith on a mission.  He’s heading to Araxes with a special invitation to the Cloudpiercer from which he has high expectations.  Unfortunately, as soon as he steps off the boat he find himself hounded down by a gang with murder on their mind.  Araxes may be the jewel in the Arctian Empire’s crown but it’s also known as the City of Countless Souls with very good reason.  Murdering and the resultant souls for sale is big business.  Called Shades these unfortunates are basically slaves, cheap labour that can provide an eternity of servitude , a business that came into being with the death of the Gods and a little manipulation of old customs and rites of passage.

In terms of the plot I’m going to give you a snippet of the blurb because it says everything quite succinctly:

‘While Caltro struggles to survive, those around him strive for the emperor’s throne in Araxes’ cutthroat game of power. The dead gods whisper from corpses, a soulstealer seeks to make a name for himself with the help of an ancient cult, a princess plots to purge the emperor from his armoured Sanctuary, and a murderer drags a body across the desert, intent on reaching Araxes no matter the cost.’

I have to say that the world and character building is very well done and and although I had a couple of issues this was without doubt a well written and incredibly unique book.

Told from varying POVs we primarily focus on Caltro who finds himself gone from an esteemed locksmith with prospects to an indentured ghost slave with no rights or belongings.  It is possible to become a free Shade and really if that happens I guess it’s almost akin to attaining immortality.  On top of Caltro’s less than desirable position he also finds himself the receptacle of attention from the Gods – one of them even speaking to him through a reanimated dead cat no less.  The whole place is one huge boiling pot of back stabbing, double crossing, dirty dealing, two faced, political maneuvering low lifes.  Including the nobles and the royals.

Alongside this we have Nilith.  Nilith is a very resourceful woman indeed and I particularly enjoyed her passages even though her current scheme is dubious.  Basically, and this isn’t a spoiler, she’s transporting her ex-husband’s dead body across The Long Sands (and never was an area more aptly named) to Araxes where she aims to bind his soul and take possession of all his worldly goods.  Her ex-husband’s shade is joining her for the trip across the desert and is being somewhat belligerent and unhelpful as you might imagine.  This aspect of the story is for the majority of the book wrapped in mystery but in spite of that I found it the most enjoyable thread and one that I was always more than happy to return to.

Alongside the above two we have a gang boss named Temsa who has very high ambitions.  He’s a ruthless, manipulative thug of a man who makes his way in life by murdering people and selling shades.  He’s got a much bigger scheme in mind though and his eye is fixed on the end goal which sees him making strange alliances.

Finally, Sisine,  A young princess who in spite of her youth is as manipulative as the other key players.  She also aims for greatness and with a life lived at court experiencing danger and scheming on a regular basis she’s quite well grounded in the art of cunning herself.

I think this is probably one of the most unique concepts I’ve read for a while and like many of the characters the author has been very ambitious here.  There’s a lot to fit into this story and I think the author makes a good job of giving his world a firm foundation to build the rest of the series on.  Of course, with such an ambitious story I did think the pacing of the first half of the book was a little slow and in fact on completion I would say this book definitely feels like a set up book.  Now, I realise that sounds a little bit negative but I don’t think it matters too much for this first in series.  There’s such a lot of new ideas that I think the author has taken the most sensible route by giving his creation room to grow in the minds of readers.  It would be easy to rush into a frantically paced plot but I think that way would have led to confusion for the most part.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, it did take me quite a while to become invested in the story.  I can’t say that Caltro has worked his magic on me at the moment but I’m still open to persuasion.  I think that this is a very cold and brutal world.  Nobody bats an eye at the taking of life and I have to be honest it felt almost a little too grim.  Araxes is so lawless that I struggled a little bit coming to terms with it.  In a place where the strongest wins it feels like the place is just one step away from falling into a murderous spiral of killing and mayhem until the last man or woman remains standing.  I guess it felt a little bit too cut throat  in a way and I would have liked a small glimmer of hope.  That all being said Nilith’s storyline was very entertaining and although filled with danger and tension the revelations along the way were surprisingly unexpected.

All in all, and little niggles aside, I think this is a very promising start to series – it does have something of a cliffhanger ending so bear that in mind when you pick it up and hopefully there won’t be too long a wait to see how these stories pan out.

My thanks to the author for a review copy.  The above is my own opinion.

Cover Reveal: Chasing Graves by Ben Galley

Posted On 13 September 2018

Filed under Book Reviews
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Today I’m really pleased to be sharing with you the cover for Ben Galley’s forthcoming book : Chasing Graves.  This is the first instalment in a new trilogy that sounds deliciously dark and decidedly promising.  Chasing Graves takes place in the City of Araxes where the only thing you can be certain of is ‘death is only the beginning’.  More information below but for now feast your eyes on the cover:

 

Wait for it…

 

Wait for it…..

 

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Are you not entertained? Maybe scared?  Or just downright intrigued? Of course, you’re all three and so below is a little more information to whet your appetite:

Meet Caltro Basalt. He’s a master locksmith, a selfish bastard, and as of his first night in Araxes, stone cold dead.

They call it the City of Countless Souls, the colossal jewel of the Arctian Empire, and all it takes to rule is to own more ghosts than any other. For in Araxes, the dead do not rest in peace in the afterlife, but live on as slaves for the rich.

While Caltro struggles to survive, those around him strive for the emperor’s throne in Araxes’ cutthroat game of power. The dead gods whisper from corpses, a soulstealer seeks to make a name for himself with the help of an ancient cult, a princess plots to purge the emperor from his armoured Sanctuary, and a murderer drags a body across the desert, intent on reaching Araxes no matter the cost.

Only one thing is certain in Araxes: death is only the beginning.

Now, if you’re anything like me you probably need just a tad more information.  So, firstly, and most importantly, I think, when is this little beauty due for release: December 7th 2018 (eBook & Paperback).  That’s right, make a note in your diary, free your schedule, pre order one today 😀

If you want to know more about the cover, which obviously you do, look no further:

Finally, Mr Galley – everything you need to know in order to get in touch with the intrepid author himself – go stalk, I mean, go check him out:

And, if that wasn’t enough and you’re scratching your bonce thinking ‘hey up, don’t I know this author’- well, yes, you probably do.  Go check out his goodreads page for a starter – very impressive list of books right there.  And, here are my reviews for Ben’s SPFBO book, Bloodrush and his emotionally loaded Heart of Stone.

I’m very excited to read this one.

 

 

The Heart of Stone by Ben Galley

Posted On 30 March 2017

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heartThe Heart of Stone is a wonderful, bitter sweet and richly detailed book about a golem created with destruction in mind.  A tale of harsh times that takes place in a country torn by civil war where fighting and death have become the norm and yet unexpectedly amongst the bloodshed, out of a small kernel of hope, a strange and unlooked for friendship grows and changes the outcome of the conflict.

The country of Hartlund has been torn by civil war for many years, divided between the loyalists who follow the Crown and the people’s uprising, people who are tired of living on the edge of desperation and have finally rebelled.  As the story starts the rebellion is actually making headway and the royalists stand on the brink of defeat until, that is, they unleash their newest weapon.  A wind-cut golem, the last survivor of it’s kind.  Created during an era before magic was condemned and stamped out golems were bred with one thing in mind.  War.  Without heart or soul these were fearsome creatures, I suppose an early days Terminator if you will, they certainly know no pity or remorse.  They kill people ruthlessly at the whim of the masters they serve.

Task is the last golem.  He’s an unusual war machine because he does actually have feelings.  He may be made of stone but deep down he cares.  Naturally, over the course of his many years, he’s learned to stay remote.  To not engage.  He carries out his orders and learns to numb or ignore the feelings he may have.

This is a very easy story to engage with.  The writing is good, the place is well imagined and the true focus of the piece is the characters.  Obviously we have Task, the indestructible golem.  What really drew me to him was listening to his inner thoughts.  Yes, he has become very closed off, disappointed even, I suppose 400 years of war can lead to a good dose of cynicism when it comes to the motives of man, and yet, his hard exterior isn’t quite as tough as he likes to think.  He’s more bark than bite really and it only takes a young girl, without anything to gain, just simply wanting to talk to him, to bring down his defences.  The young girl is a stable hand known as Lesky, it takes a while for her story to finally be revealed and so I won’t go into that.  Lesky is one of those characters with a ‘good head on her’.  She talks a lot of sense and in spite of being a young female amidst a battle angry army she can look after herself.

On one side of the field we have General Huff, Task’s latest master – a bully of a man, keen to display his prowess on the field of battle by wielding his newest weapon.  Definitely a man with no finesse, the term, taking a sledgehammer to a walnut could be written with him in mind as he uses Task to bludgeon his way through the enemy lines.  Fighting on the other side is Lord Lash – a cunning opponent who has also tried to gain his men their own weapon in the form of a notorious, sword wielding dragon slayer known as Alabast.  Regrettably, Alabast has spent so many years peering closely at the bottom of a bottle that he’s actually become a little reliant on strong liquor.  Maybe not the best ‘weapon’ to have to rely on although don’t be fooled, sometimes stung pride and a well placed challenge can be all the motivation that a man needs. Then we have Ellia Frayne – also a great character surrounded by mystery.  Like Lesky her story will slowly be revealed so, again, I won’t spoil it.  Basically these characters are so easy to get on board with.  They’re well developed and you can’t help loving some and equally hating others.

I can’t deny that this is a bloodthirsty number.  There is plenty of death and destruction but there’s also hope, a light at the end of the tunnel and a chance at redemption.  Which for me seems to be the main thrust of the story.

In terms of criticisms.  There is quite a good deal of set up here, and, I almost reached a point where it felt like Task, rushing into battle and pounding, punching and pulverising his way through the opposing side, risked becoming repetitive –  wash rinse, repeat – on reflection I can’t help wondering if that was a deliberate ploy by the author to give you a small glimpse into Task’s world, to see how it felt to relentlessly be at the whim of tyrants and to constantly be squashing the life out of people and watching the light in their eyes disappear.  Fortunately, at that point the story went in a completely different direction and one that I really wasn’t expecting.  Now, this is quite a hefty novel and there is plenty of character development and thoughtful speculation and some readers may feel this slows the plot a little.  I didn’t personally feel like that, I enjoyed the build up.  The character growth was really impressive.  Sometimes this aspect is rushed, we’re simply ‘told’ how the characters have developed rather than being allowed to read about it as a natural progression as the story unfolds.  I felt like this unforced development made me much more attached to the characters and to really care about them, which naturally helped to increase the anticipation as the situations they faced become more dangerous.

I can’t deny that this is an unusual tale with a bitter sweet ending that left me actually wanting more (I understand this is a standalone)?  I enjoyed it, it’s not a book that you will race through, simply because you need to take the time to read it properly and absorb all the nuances, the betrayals and the twists.  Well written, unique and with plenty of heart a book that put me in mind of Frankenstein in more ways than one.  Both ‘monsters’ were created by the hand of man – but who was the real monster?  At the end of the day Task was simply a weapon, used indiscriminately by which ever master currently held the key to his control.  A good story, a thought provoking piece and definitely a tale with plenty of heart.

I received a copy from the author in exchange for a honest review.  The above is my own opinion.

 

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