Monday, February 15, 2016

Chains of the Heretic by Jeff Salyards

Chains of the Heretic by Jeff Salyards is the third book in the Bloodsounder’s Arc published by Night Shade Books. Bloodsounder’s Arc is one of my favorite series of recent memory, and I have been looking forward to reading Chains for some time. Scourge of the Betrayer (review) was a strong, if brief, first entry. Veil of the Deserters (review) was the rare second book in a trilogy that was better than the first. Chains of the Heretic-- without reservation-- is the best of the series as it showcases Jeff Salyards’ skill and growth as a writer.

Both of my prior reviews commented on the story structure and the skill with which Salyards has executed his story. With Chains, Salyards is just as deft but now has two prior books to reference. This depth of prior material allows Salyards to pack additional meaning into each scene and each bit of dialog. Conversations take on dual meaning, both the implicit and the explicit, while references to prior scenes are buried in innocuous language and settings. This adds depth and punch to the unfolding narrative-- a richness missing from prior novels that lends weight and gravity to Chains.

Equally amazing is how Salyards successfully juggles the widely increased scope. Both prior novels were fairly narrow; the characters move from Point A to Point B. In between, they face conflict. This simple structure allowed the characters and dialog to remain front and center. In Chains, the scope explodes as Braylar and crew pierce the Godveil, encounter the Deserters, escape, engage in a coup of the current Emperor, and wage a war of enormous import. Yet, within the dizzying explosion of worldbuilding-- which was unexpected giving the parsimonious nature of the prior novels-- Salyards does not lose site of the novel’s pillars, its characters. They remain front and center and their stories continue.

The ultimate revelation in Chains is how little the world matters compared to the characters. There is no ‘chosen one’. There is no grand plot that imperils the world. There is a far larger story instead: the story of Braylar and Soffjian as told by Arkamandos. Only as Chains winds to a close does Salyards reveal the importance of Braylar’s recounting of his childhood and his relationship with his sister. This story-- a story of children, family, and tribe-- intertwines with the current bloody struggle. As one is brought to a close, so is the second.

What Bloodsounder’s Arc is about is violence. It is about a father who sought to protect his children from violence only to have violence rip them from his protection. Bloodsounder’s Arc is about how this violence defines its participants in spite of their motivations or qualities, damages them, and ultimately consumes them-- even when they ‘win’. Those who witness and record the story, an archivist perhaps, are forever changed by the violence. This story is powerful and its ending is both bittersweet and satisfying.

Chains of the Heretic by Jeff Salyards is a great novel. Salyards skillful use of literary language and plot structure elevates the novel and shines a spotlight on the human element, allowing the rest of the world fade into the backdrop. Chains is a great example of how “fantasy plus literary fiction can achieve things that frank blank realism can’t” and continues this debate so recently sparked anew by Kazuo Ishiguro. I cannot recommend Chains of the Heretic and the Bloodsounder’s Arc enough. It is simply one of the best examples of modern genre and hopefully foreshadows where it is going. I look forward to Jeff Salyards' next project.

Memorable Quotes:
“You told me not so very long ago that having tasted a touch of grief, I was that much closer to living a complete life. Perhaps I am just further along the road now.”
"...but some vengeance I’d held onto for so many years it putrefied.”
Chains of the Heretic by Night Shade Books
Image Source:
Review Copy: ARC Provided by Jeff Salyard's & Night Shade Press
ISBN: 978-1-59780-813-2

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone is the first book in The Craft Sequence series published by Tor. Three Parts Dead finds a way to forge new ground in the urban fantasy genre by creating a new world with familiar characters and themes. The end result is the rare book that managed to feel unique and original.

The Craft Sequence takes places in a fictional world not long after a ruinous war between the Gods, real and knowable, and humans who had usurped their power. Three Parts Dead explores the complex relationships that build in such an environment. The Gods bind their followers to them through love and faith. The Crafters works through contracts, i.e. law.

It is this conceit of law that gives the story its legs. Law is after all, all about relationships and the ties that bind people - and entities - together. Crafters, being magical lawyers, are focused on managing those relationships. Every character introduced into the novel is tied into an increasingly complex web of loyalties and obligations. Finally understanding that complex web is the story’s satisfying payoff.

As enjoyable as the interaction between the characters is in Three Parts Dead are, it was really the thematic elements that provide its heart. In particular, the need for companionship ultimately ties all of the characters together and drives their motives. The Crafters, as they evolve into something more than human, still feel the need for companionship. Worshippers desire the warmth and companionship their Gods provide. Even the Gods themselves require love and affection.

Once you realize this, it makes the novel’s villain that much more enjoyable. Out of all of the characters driven to companionship, one character seeks to be alone and to dominate all those around them. Any relationships this character seeks are one-sided. The ultimate goal is to shed their humanity and move beyond such mundane things.

This focus on relationships allows Three Parts Dead to transcend the typical tropes of urban fantasy. Exploring how all things need the gentle warmth of companionship gives Dead such an earnest and heartfelt quality that is often missing from novels -- especially novels that focus on undying love or similar heavy fare.

Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone is an easy recommendation. There is a lot of enjoy in this well crafted debut novel. The intriguing new world and focus on the ties that bind create a captivating read.

Tor Books: Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone
Image Source: MacMillan
Review Copy: Self Purchased
ISBN: 9781466802032