#SPFBO Review : Shadow of a Dead God (Mennik Thorn #1) by Patrick Samphire

ShadowThe 1st of June marked the start of the sixth Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (details here.)  My Introductory post is here.  Stage 1 is now complete and the finalists can be found here.

Today I’m posting my review for the first SPFBO finalist that I’ve read and what a great start this turned out to be.  If this book sets the standard for the rest of the final then colour me happy.

On the face of it, and my early impressions, were that this didn’t bring much new to the table.  And, even upon completion, this feels familiar.  But, part of that ‘familiarity’ is what works so well here.  This is an easy book to read, it’s comfortable, like an old pair of slippers.  You can pick this up and pretty soon be swept away with the story, the setting seems to fall easily into place and the characters are confidently brought to mind.  This is a book that won’t hurt your brain and yet at the same time it provides a mystery that keeps you turning the pages into the early hours.

So, Mennik Thorn (Nik) is a second rate mage, however, he stands out because of his decision to run solo.  He’s a mage for hire and as the story begins he’s stuck in a pantry waiting for ghosts to appear so that he can banish them.  It’s a boring number, working for an overbearing client who treats him like something that sticks to the bottom of the shoe.  Worse still, there’s a real possibility that he’s going to lose the job if things don’t pick up very soon and he badly needs the money, rent and food not being free after all.

Now, enter the scene Nik’s lifelong buddy, and two bit thief, Benny.  Benny has a perfect job lined up and needs Nik’s help (and more to the point his magic abilities) in order to pull it off.  This is one of those jobs that can’t possibly go wrong so obviously things go to hell in a handcart, a vicious murder takes place and Nik and Benny are the only suspects.  Nik is hauled off in one direction by the ‘magical police’ (Ash Guards) and Benny is taken to ‘regular’ prison where the crime of theft will mean losing both his hands.  The prospects don’t look good so when Nik is released on a technicality he needs to investigate and clear both their names.

What did I really enjoy about Shadow of a Dead God?  I thought the world building was a winning combination of familiar and unique.  The setting, for example, felt like going down a well trodden path – and I mean that in a very positive way.  There are the segregations that occur between the rich and the poor that bring to us, on the one hand, palatial mansions, and in fact palaces with lush gardens, decadent decor and superfluous rooms, countered by the winding, rabbit warren style streets where the poorer inhabitants dwell. Then we have the Ash Guard.  I loved this aspect of the story.  The Ash Guard provide a counter to the Mages and prevent them running amok.  The ash they carry, wear and protect ferociously, nullifies magic often causing complete chaos when they run round the city wiping out charms and wards willy nilly.  I must say I think the Ash Guard are an inspired creation and I can’t wait to read more of one of their number in particular.

The magic is also really fascinating, powered by dead Gods – and speaking of Gods, some very unusual ones right here not to mention a plethora of ghosts.

The characters. Nik is a self deprecating, in a funny way, type of story teller.  He and Benny go back many years and although they can sometimes be a bit at odds with each other, when the chips are down the strength of their connection really comes through. The banter and dialogue between the two is well realised and quite refreshingly fun.  Benny’s daughter, Sereh, is something of an enigma. I’m not totally sure that I’ve bought into her very own brand of creepy and deadly just yet, particularly as she’s only 11, but, lets just say I’m prepared to be persuaded.

I also thought this was written really well and apart from a slight lag as I set off I suffered no hiccups, the pacing was good and there was a great mix of mystery and action.

In terms of criticisms.  I don’t have anything really strong to mention.  As the book set out I will admit that it felt perhaps a little too familiar but as I continued to read that feeling simply faded and I think that’s due to the winning combination of things that felt familiar coupled with those that felt refreshingly unique.  In terms of Nik, I would mention that he gave me strong Harry Dresden vibes.  He is a character that is basically a good egg but finds himself in dangerous predicaments as a result of being easy to manipulate.  He also got beaten up a lot and for the first (I would say) two thirds of the book he ran round like a headless chicken, his knee jerk reactions taking him from one dire situation to the next.  I have to hand it to the author though because he intuitively knew when that point would be reached and uncannily Nik seemed to realise that he needed to stop blundering around and use his brains at the very same time I did.

Overall, I thought this was a very entertaining read.  The writing was strong, the pacing and action kept me hooked, the central character is likable and I feel like I’ve found a series here that I would very much like to continue reading.

I received a copy courtesy of the author, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4 of 5 stars (8 of 10 for Goodreads)