We Are The Dead by Mike Shackle

Series: The Last War #1Genre: fantasy
Date of Publishing: August 8th 2019Publisher: Gollancz


Quotes of the Book

Tinnstra stood there, watching the mayhem, frozen to the spot. Smoke bellowed from a hole in the west wall of the west wing, near her room. Students and Shulka poured out of the main building, strapping on armour, putting on helmets, brandishing what weapons they had to hand. A boy, blood pouring out of a cut on his head, pointed skywards, shouted something, but it was if he spoke another language, one she didn’t understand.

Something flew high above them. A shape that flitted between smoke and shadow. It swooped down towards them. Fast, attacking. Tinnstra wanted to run but her legs wouldn’t work. Whatever the creature was, she’d never seen anything like it. It was too big to be a bird. Then she saw arms, legs, a body. A man. No. Not human. Not that. It had hooked, leathery wings that stretched six feet in either direction. Bulbous eyes, glowing red with hate and fury. Skin like armour. A demon.

And behind it… More of them. A swarm.
The demon roared. Tinnstra screamed.

*excerpt taken from book any mistakes are my own.”

 

“‘Every plan goes to shit once the first punch is thrown,’ said Kaine. ‘You taught me that. It’s what you do next that matters.'”

 


Blurb

The war is over. The enemy won. Now it’s time to fight back.

For generations, the people of Jia – a land where magic has long since faded from the world, clinging on in only a few rare individuals – have been protected from the northern Egril hordes by their warrior caste, but their enemy has not been idle. They have rediscovered magic and use it to launch an overwhelming surprise attack. An invasion has begun.

And in moments, the war is over. Resistance is quashed. Kings and city leaders are barricaded in their homes awaiting banishment and execution, the warriors are massacred, and a helpless people submit to the brutality of Egril rule.

Jia’s heroes have failed it. They are all gone. And yet… there is still hope. Soon the fate of the kingdom will fall into the hands of a schoolboy terrorist, a crippled Shulka warrior and his wheelchair bound son, a single mother desperate enough to do anything she can to protect her baby… and Tinnstra, disgraced daughter of the Shulka’s greatest leader, who now lies dead by Egril hands.

A brand new epic fantasy: gritty and modern featuring a unique ensemble of characters who will lead a revolution against their overlords.


Jen’s Disclaimer/Personal Note

Copy made available by the author.


Jen’s Song of the Book

Zombie by Bad Wolves

 

Jen’s Review – 4.75/5

For ages, the Shulka have been the line of defense against the Egril, who in the past have been seen as barbarians. In truth the Egril have always presented themselves that way, their weapons primitive and their attacks messy affairs lacking leadership and discipline. But that all changes and very quickly when the Egril’s invade and decimate Jia’s pride, their Shulka army. And that was just the beginning…

This starts with a huge bang and doesn’t let up at all. The brisk style of the writing is packed full of information. The craftily placed tidbits work to fill in details through conversations, duties, and memories while keeping the pages turning – everything is supremely well-meshed and we just breeze through, picking up facts without even noticing we are doing so. I like this style a lot (as I am sure everyone knows by now).

The world and magic were very cool and felt like this was the tip of the iceberg with a ton of room to expand into the next book/s but the characters were the highlight for me. I love a good well-built world and neat magic but I probably am not going to care as much if I don’t have somebody to root for.

There are a few characters that we follow:

Tinnstra of clan Rizon – a proud house (and the first Shulka warriors) she has done her family a dishonour by being expelled for cowardice from the academy.

I’m always been a bit of sucker for the underdog makes good kind of character, and their journey to overcome adversity whether it’s outside, or within themselves. Tinnstra is that kind of character. She comes from a family of warriors, people willing to throw themselves in the line of fire and die trying, she just doesn’t have the courage or the heart for it herself.

Tinnstra could be really frustrating at times, because I wanted her to snap out of that paralysis, to quit mentally whining and kick some ass, but her fear also made me sympathise with her more so than if she’d been brandishing her weapon yelling “Die Bastards!”

The scene that showed her fear the best for me, was one with her cowering in terror, crying, but still too petrified to move out of dangers way – my heart went out to her in that moment, more so than any of the instances where she was remembering how she screwed up, or was berating herself for not being more courageous. I liked the slow procession her character took to find that courage and that we could see her progression.

Dren – A fisherman’s son. I think if Mike Shackle nailed anyone in characterization – it was this character, Dren, the fourteen-year-old kid who I equally wanted to hug or join Jax in his thoughts about throwing him in the sea.

I started calling him “the little asshole” in my head. Which really is quite rude of me because he is only fourteen, with a chip the size of a mountain on his shoulder and a hurt just as large in his heart. Poor kid.
He was so angry at the world for everything that had happened, and he lashed out at anything and everyone, not caring who died as long as one of them was an Egril.
I felt he was so real, and a lot of why I did get so frustrated with him was that his attitude was too close to my memory of my own child and dealing with him at that age (not that my child was out blowing shit up but let’s just say I swore off kids after that age group).

Dren has quite a journey through this book, and some of it was heart-wrenching. He was my favourite even when I wanted to slap him silly.

Yas – Works as a cleaner for the Skulls. Yas doesn’t want to be a part of anything, especially anything that’s going to call attention to her and endanger her child but she gets dragged into the revolution anyway.

Jax and Kaine – Father and son. Jax won me over for his complete love of his son and his total sense of duty to what he felt needed to be done.
And Kaine as well for his dedication. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree here, and like his dad he never gave up, despite his injuries.

Darus and Skara – The Emperors Chosen. They were in the vanguard that invaded Jia first, they’re brother and sister and I wondered if all the magic users, were as crazy as Darus.
They are really the only big magic users we see outside of the Tonin – the gateway openers who seemed quite demented as well, but not overly functional outside of their job opening the gate.
These two (Darus and Skara) were the worst kind of crazy, and that’s the functioning in a leadership position kind.

Most of our viewpoint of the Egril is through Darus and Skara or the Egril soldiers (which didn’t paint a pretty picture of them) but we also had the occasional glimpse of a more human side – a scared young soldier trying to throw up a white flag or something as innocuous as smiling and manners towards a shop employee and I appreciated these for making the enemy not just the “bad guys”.

***

There were moments in the story where you could see the trail, the event or the thing that had to happen to push or spur that character forward to their path. But then there were also times that the story took a total left, and I was like, What the hell just happened here? When you read a lot, those surprise moments are rare so the fact that there were a few; impressed me.

 

The TLDR

We Are the Dead is worthy of your attention. From start to finish this will keep you on the edge of your seat. This is an outstanding debut, you don’t want to miss it.


Other notes

The last third of the book was like an ocean swell of build and recede, hope would swell and success was close at hand, until finally everything surges and crashes upon the shore. Then we just wait for the water to clear and see what or if anything was left behind. So stressful.

Fast/sight reader problems – It took me a good half of the book to keep The Skulls and The Shulka separate in my head because the words are similar looking/sounding.

Zorique reads/feels a lot older than her age at times, even accounting for societal influences.

I really liked the breakup of the book into Days, for giving me a good stopping place.

A huge thank you to Mike Shackle for supplying a copy of We Are the Dead.

Timy’s Disclaimer/Personal Note

Mike was generous enough to gift me a paperback copy when we met in Bristol. I’ve been wanting to read this book ever since Jen did, because I loved their interactions on Twitter. And also because people whose taste I trust in praised it high enough.

I added this book to my Armed with a Bingo card. I’ve put it under the ‘A book which was a gift / borrowed‘ square.


Timy’s Song of the Book

Okay, I think this book deserves my most favourite song ever from my favourite band: I Will Not Bow by Breaking Benjamin.

 

Timy’s Review – 5/5

When I picked up We Are the Dead, I had no idea what to expect. Sure, my friends praised it, as well as Peter McLean who so far proved to be trustful source when it comes to books. Although, really, the main reason I turned to this books was the author, Mike Shackle himself. I was really hoping I will love this book, and was terrified that I won’t. With me that’s always a possibility. I picked We Are the Dead up on a whim, partly because it wasn’t on my immediate TBR list, and partly because I wanted to read a physical book and I happened to have this one on my shelf. I had a really good feeling about it you know, like it was whispering to me to read it, and so I’ve gave myself in the sirene song and here we go.

The book begins with Jia’s invasion by the Egril, the neighbouring kingdom, which Jia looked down on for ages. Until Egril plotted their world dominating plans. We see the events through 3 (out of 5) main POV characters’ eyes: Tinnstra, Dren and Jax. But that’s just the intro, then we jump 6 months in time and from then on we follow the events happening in the span of 8 days. This is where 2 other POV characters join: Yas and Darus. More about them later. There are two main places for the events: Aisair, the capital city of Jia and Kiyosun, a port city, also in Jia.

The Egril invason was quick and brutal, their regime is even more so. It kinda reminded me how communist regimes work(ed) in the real world. People can’t leave their homes after curfew, they have to worship Kage, the Egril god, they live in constant fear and at some point they are asked to spy on each other in order to save their own lives when it comes to that. Jia is not that happy, prospering kingdom it used to be. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t people who don’t try to fight back. The surviving Shulka – Jian elite warriors whose job to protect the people – and people who are willing to fight organise themselves into a opposition group called Hanran. They have a plan in motion, in order to save the last hope of Jia for ever becoming free again. Until the royal family lives, there is hope as well.

Jax and his son Kaine are one of the leaders of the Hanran in Kiyosun, they are both Shulka, seasoned warriors and brave men. They are responsible for getting Kiyosun ready for its part in the plan, but things aren’t so easy, with Dren and his band roaming free in the city. Dren had become orphaned and hates both Shulka and Skulls (the Egril soldiers) as well as anyone who he thinks collaborates with them, aka works and serves the Egril, no matter the reason. He and his cousin are determined to kill as many of them as they can, consequences be damned. Not realising how much more damage they do. I have to admit, I hated Dren with a passion for being so narrow minded and idiotic. If I were Jax I would have put a knife in the kid and be done with it. But of course Jax is a better person than me and had other plans. Though he still got a few lessons to learn, so there is that.

Yas also lives in Kiyousn, a widowed single mother living with her mom, working for the Egril in the Council House, which is their seat of power in Kiyosun. She has no other choice if she wants to feed her son and mother. Unfortunately for her, she is the perfect candidate to be an insider for the Hanran, doing things for them, she never would have considered before. Shackle does not shy away from putting his characters through some shit, but out of all 5, probably Yas got the worst of it. Emotionally/mentally anyway. She is a civilian, being put in a position that she shouldn’t be in. Making a decision she shouldn’t have. But war is not a chooser, and has no care about who suffers as long as there is a price paid. And enough blood spilled. And believe me, there is plenty of blood being spilled in We Are the Dead.

The other female POV character is Tinnstra, daughter of a legendary Shulka warrior who also happens to be a coward. A damn annoying one at that. I mean, I’m sorry, but she really annoyed the hell out of me. She has a great arc, but ugh, no, her whining drove me crazy. Possibly because I can be such a whining wuss myself, but still. Even so, eventually she comes around and I absolutely appreciate how this character was written, how she finds her purpose and starts to get a grip of her own powers.

It’s going to sound weird, but my favourite character was Darus. The only Egril POV character and a deliciously psychopath one. I can’t help but enjoy reading about these types of characters. The ones who absolutely have no moral compass, are narcistic and a little bit more than crazy with a taste for cruelty. I kinda had the feeling that Shackle enjoyed writing these chapters. Not because of the blood or violence itself, but because getting into the head of such a character is an interesting challenge and can be kind of fun. Though admittedly that depends on your definition of “fun”.

As you might have gathered, We Are the Dead is a character driven fantasy of the best kind. It not only has well written characters right and left but also an interesting world with its Four Gods (plus Kage), magic (not really explained just yet, but I’m pretty sure we’ll learn more later on) and did I mention blood yet?

Going in I knew no one was safe, despite the promised tea and cookies, and boy I still didn’t see some things coming. One of my pet peeves is predictability, but We Are the Dead has no such issues. I was kept on my toes throughout the book, not having any idea what’s going to happen and where any given plan will go wrong. Or who will die. You usually can be pretty sure that the main characters will survive the adventures at least until the last book of the series, but here you don’t have that surety. You can just never know when one character or another will die or who will betray whom. And that made We Are the Dead a damn thrilling read. It’s a story about the ugly side of war, about the decisions you have to make in order to survive and about how you deal with facing your deepest fears.

Mike Shackle is a fresh voice in fantasy, one we probably needed like a breeze on a hot summer day. It’s been a while I’ve been so excited about an epic fantasy and I can’t wait to read more. If you like character driven fantasy, with plenty of actions and unpredictable plot, spiced with some grimness, then We Are the Dead is definitely for you! I don’t think anyone should miss Shackle‘s rise into stardom.

PS: For some extra fun, check out how the Shulka prayer looks like in Hungarian, in this What the Hungarian?! post!


Our Judgement

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