Chasing Graves by Ben Galley

Series: Chasing Graves Trilogy #1 Rating: 4/5
Date of Publishing: December 7th 2018 Genre: fantasy, dark fantasy
Publisher: self published Available: Amazon
Number of pages: 300 Author’s website: http://www.bengalley.com

Quote of the Book

“People say a story is a window into another mind, another world. I believe they are more mirrors than windows. In them, we glimpse ourselves dressed up as the characters. And like any reflection, the truth we see can be hard to swallow.”

– Widow Horix

Blurb

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 it 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.

Personal notes

I’m practically neck-deep in books I have to read, and one more book really wasn’t what I needed, but not having self-restraint, I had to go and ask for an ARC *sigh*. Did I regret? Hell no. But I really have to learn self-control in the future.

This was the first book I’ve ever read from Ben Galley, not counting his short story in the Lost Lore anthology.

Song of the Book

I had this song in mind lately, tried to match it to other books or choose it as my Music Monday song, but nothing seemed right. Until now. I could have cheat and choose something from Ben’s own Chasing Graves playlist, but I like to go after my own head 😛

Review

In everyone’s life comes that point when we start to think about what awaits us after death depending on your beliefs. A happy afterlife? Torture? A place in between where we wait until our fate is decided? Or something else? The people of Araxes aren’t wondering much, they know all too well what comes for them: endless servitude as shades. The luckier ones can get their freedom and a choice in the matter, but most people is not so fortunate.

“The part of loss that cuts the deepest is that you never know which moments are the last until they’ve already been and gone. The last meal, the last kiss and such. What hurts is how it pales to the glorious finale you might have imagined.”

Araxes is not called the City of Countless Souls for nothing. The soultrade is in full bloom and no one is safe, especially after the sun goes down. Caltro Basalt is well aware of this fact upon arriving to Araxes, to learn about his mysterious employer-wanna-be called Etan. But alas, the traders’ bribe are worth more than mere passengers and they ship arrives to port late. And so our Caltro meets his fate way too soon. Aided by a strong want for justice and some ambiguous warning from dead things claiming to be the dead gods. Fortunately Caltro is not one to sit on his ass idly and wait for miracle to happen and thus keeps getting into trouble with his new master, the widow Horix and her personal shade Vex. The latter hates Caltro with a passion from the moment they meet. This results in being punished. And if you wonder what exactly can be tormenting for a ghost who doesn’t need, air, food, sleep, then just wait. A walking, talking reanimated cat is just the bonus to scare the shit out of him.

His new master, tal Horix is quite an interesting character. I still can’t decide if I like her or not. She is definitely not the harmless, senile old lady some might think. The only thing sharper than her mind is her tongue and she is not afraid to show off both. She recognises an opportunity when she sees one and Caltro picks her interest. Sadly, we have to wait to learn why the interest, so be patient, my friends.

I quite liked Caltro, his snarkiness and headstrong personality and that he got damn good lines from Galley:

“Suppressing stress can be poisonous to a soul, and seeing as I was all soul, I needed to be careful.”

He, being the main character, is the only one who got his POV written in first person, and it works really well. Although he works as a locksmith, and prides himself as the best lockpick in the Empire, he has a strong desire for justice. When it comes to himself, that is. My only complaint is that we don’t spend more time with him, learning more about his past. And because he is the most interesting character of the whole cast, the only one you can actually care about. Sure, the others have their own hardships and agendas, but Caltro is the most human of them all. Even if he has to live the rest of his ‘life’ as a shade. We know his current situation, and his goals, but we hardly get to know him really. Or any explanation why the sudden interest of dead things in him. But I guess we’ll get answers in the next two books.

Another plotline is centered around Nilith, he fierce Krass women from the steppes, who were forced into a marriage with a wealthy merchant in Araxes years ago. Getting fed up with her husband finally, she decides to get to the end of the matter. She hunts down her ‘beloved’, kills him, and plans to drag him through half the Arctian Empire back to Araxes to properly bound his ghost to herself and claim his wealth. Time is running out, she only has 40 days to accomplish this according to the laws regarding Indenturement. Besides carrying a rotting corpse and bearing with Farazar wearing her patience thin. Not talking about all the dangers that awaits them on their way. If I want to be honest, I didn’t see much point in this plotline until the very end. And while the banter between husband and wife was entertaining – especially the fact they finally were forced to keep each other’s company and learn about the other after many years of marriage – but sometimes I wished we were moving on from this POV. I’m just no fan of a plotline which revolves around traveling from A to B. Things do make sense by the end though and that makes it worth. It also provided a cool opportunity to get a glimpse into the mythology of the world, when the old lady, the bedlam popped up. I pretty much enjoyed that scene.

We have two other side plotlines, one following Sisine, the Queen-in-waiting as she tries her wings in politics and leading without her parents’ watching eyes. She is more than a pretty face, she has wits, knowledge, years of training in court politics and a healthy dose of cunning and wilfulness. I’m waiting to see what her plans will come to later in the trilogy. And then we have Boran Temsa, soultrader, merchant with big dreams rising over his own social status. He is ambitious, ruthless and he has questionable morals.

“A person who longs to change the past will only see themselves as a product of what could have been. The longing changes nothing of the present.”

The book follows several plotlines, which doesn’t quite intertwine yet. Being the first book of a trilogy, Chasing Graves is mostly about world-building, and setting things up for the next two books. And though it is a highly enjoyable book with a pretty cool setting and awesome ideas, it left open too many questions. I felt like there wasn’t enough of an arc to the story, and ended quite abruptly. Maybe Nilith’s plotline the only one that actually got a half closure with the revelation and all. I also would have liked to read more about the mythology, clearly inspired by a few ancient religions like the egyptian or the greek – the dead gods has similar names to the Egyptian’s and the river Nyx together with the copper coins might be familiar from Greek mythology.

Galley clearly knows what he is doing, and was able to wave together a story about life and death, revenge and greed, justice and blind fate. Chasing Graves is a dark, compelling entry into a trilogy. The characters and the world is complex and well-built, the story intriguing enough to make you want more. Even if I’m still waiting for that feeling of being completely impressed. So, Mr Galley when is the next book coming out again?

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