|Series: Iconoclasts #1||Genre: dark fantasy, horror, fantasy, grimdark|
|Read date: March 2018||Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble|
|Rating: 3.75/5||Author’s website: https://www.mikeshel.com/|
The days of adventure are passed for Auric Manteo. Retired to the countryside with his scars and riches, he no longer delves into forbidden ruins seeking dark wisdom and treasure. That is, until old nightmares begin plaguing his sleep, heralding an urgent summons back to that old life. To save his only daughter, Auric must return to the place of his greatest trauma: the haunted Barrowlands. With only a few inexperienced companions and an old soldier, he must confront the dangers of the ancient and wicked Djao civilization. Auric has survived fell beasts, insidious traps, and deadly hazards before. But can he contend with the malice of a bloodthirsty living god? First book in the Iconoclasts trilogy, Aching God is the debut novel of RPG adventure designer Mike Shel. He is hard at work on the sequel, Sin Eater.
I recieved a free advance reader’s copy in exchange of a honest review. Thanks for Mike Shel for providing me one 🙂
The first time I met Mike Shel’s work was in the Lost Lore anthology, where he published a short story titled Barrowland and introduced the main character of his debut novel, Auric. Obviously, I was intrigued to know what happens next so when the opportunity arose, I dived in. Apart from the short story, I didn’t really know what should I expect, so couldn’t be disappointed in the end. Altough, considering the offer came through a person whose taste I find similar to mine, that wasn’t really a possibility. All in all, I wasn’t disappointed with this one. Despite that I find it hard to review it, but can’t put my finger on the why. Probably I’ll figure it out by the end I finish writing this up. And since I couldn’t decide between 3.5 and 4 stars I settled on 3.75. Who said I’m not a problem solver?
Let’s start with the story. Auric, retired from the Syraeic League lives a comfortable life far from the city, trying to come to terms with his past failures and regrets. Until, that is, when he is summoned and is being forced to face all of his weeknesses – or what he thinks are weaknesses anyway. With a new group of companions and the blessing of the Queen he is set to save not only the plague burdened Boudun but his daughter’s life as well. Along their journey they face several dangers, reveal secrets and face some unexpected turn of events. This book is well written, it has the right pace and it managed to surprise me a few times. It’s obvious how much time the author spent polishing it. I also liked the world building, that we’ve got to see many parts of this vast world – I have to mention here, that you can find a nice, colored map on the author’s website. I would’ve left out a scene or two because they didn’t seem to have much significance to the story, but I won’t complain, it was still enjoyable. I also would have liked to read more about the religious system – we only get a glimpse at some gods and their follower’s life. They all seem pretty interesting, and I hope we’ll get to know more about them. They seem to be that kind of entities who like to meddle in human’s business. There is no fun like messing with peope, is there? The pantheon bores resemblance to the roman-greek pantheon and since I’m pretty much into that kind of stuff – anything regarding religions, really – I longed to read more. The same goes for the Djao culture. I’m craving to know more about them! On a side note, Aching God didn’t seem to have first book problems, we don’t get many info dumpings, or if we do, it’s smartly written into the dialogues and descriptions. My only problem was the vocabulary. Now, I’m not a native english reader, so it might be my lack of knowledge (I don’t have this problem most of the time though), but I kept checking out words to understand what is going on. It pretty much ruined the reading experience for me at times. On the other hand, most of them were archaic versions of words used in modern english, and if their use were intended, then they fitted well into the narrative and the atmosphere of the story.
I think the weak point of Aching God for me were the characters. I liked Auric, and I understood his struggle, his motivation, his fears, I could root for him and I liked how he grew throughout the book and that despite everything he could keep his sense of humor. The same goes for Belech, he might have been my favorite character overall. With Gnaeus I had a love-hate relationship and by the end he grew on me, mostly because of his sense of humor and his undeniable self-confidence. Del and Lumari remained a mystery to me and I couldn’t connect to them at all. Maybe it would have helped if we could learn more about how the Syraeic League works and how exactly are trained the different parties like the sorcerers, the swordsmen, etc. Some of the side characters were more interesting than these two ladies, I felt like they weren’t fleshed out completely for some reasons. And last but not least, Sira. She was a bright light in all the darkness lurking around the corner. She is kind, brave, intelligent and a bit of a rebel. I like that combination. I also has to mention Queen Geneviv, because she reminded me so much of Queen Elizabeth I. She might have been my favorite side character. I also pictured her as Judi Dench in one of her films where she portrayed the Queen.
Overall, I immensely enjoyed this book, especially the last 20% or so. It is a thrilling, dark, cleverly written debut novel which deserves all the attention it can get. Read it people, because it’s good! And I will keep an eye on Mike Shel in the future. I have a feeling the second book, Sin Eater will be even better.