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


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.