I received an uncorrected proof copy of Master of Sorrows in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Justin Call and Gollancz.
The narrative begins as we are introduced to the 17-year-old acolyte Annev. He is aiming to progress to the desired status of an Avatar of Judgement in this educational environment. The atmosphere he lives within, the classes he frequents and seminars he attends are to help him achieve this, whilst also being aided by the influence of his guardian Sodar and a varied group of teachers. The issue is that to achieve the status of an Avatar of Judgement, a trainee needs to pass a test simply known as a judgement (or testing day). Annev is yet to pass, although his skills, knowledge and intellect outweigh his peers’. Tomorrow is his last chance. Annev and his two best friends, Titus and Therin normally work together but this hasn’t aided any of our trio so far. This is the last chance to become an Avatar. One position remains plus many individuals who already own that status do not wish for Annev or his pals to achieve that sort of recognition. Still… the one final position remains. If unsuccessful these characters will become stewards (little more than servants) to the masters and the avatars and their rights as members of the academy are reduced sevenfold. The fact that Annev will not be allowed to marry his sweetheart is just one example.
In similar fashion to The Name of the Wind, The Magician’s Guild and The Poppy War, we have a sort of hero of destiny, an educational establishment, bullies, colourful tutors, and character-defining hardship environmental experiences. Unlike the magic schools of the aforementioned, this is an anti-magic college. The students are trained as warriors (a’ la Blood Song) taught swordsmanship, stealth, lockpicking, and other arts of infiltration. Individuals, as an avatar or a master of Chaenbalu, well, their main goal is to find magical artefacts. Taking them from evil individuals who would use them for nefarious purposes or to recoup them from others who are bewildered and unaware of the effects of said rods or magical adornments.
The history of the Gods, in a series known as The Silent Gods, is interesting. It is predominantly presented in a prologue bible-esque fashion at the start of each ‘part’. I am normally bored and honestly riled at the nonsense of these sections in fantasy but they worked exquisitely well here. We’re introduced to three Gods who were a family. One of which was a hero in how he cared for his family but is criminalised to the world in a sense that is arguably not his fault. Who is the real villain? This ARC had the status “What if you were destined to be the villain” as Jen Lyons’ debut similarly stated, “What if you weren’t the hero.” I dislike taglines like this in both books. So misleading and I guess trying to appeal to the grimdark era of fantasy.
Anyway, one of the finest aspects of this novel is the amazing characters however, my statements about all are not glowing as you will see. Annev is a brilliant protagonist. Sodar is amazing and confusingly mysteriously mentor that a hero of generations really needs. I can happily say that there are about 15-20 brilliantly constructed creations here. Two issues, however. I did not care about anything to do with Annev’s love and I believe that is only a tool to see what happens in the next book… and Fyn, although a stunning character, who I liked a lot, and one I can’t wait to follow next, his progression did not seem organic. It seemed a bit too neat and tidy to help the narrative’s progression.
SPOILER UNTIL I SAY OTHERWISE…
Annev reminded me about one of my favourite characters in fantasy over the last 3 years, Girton Club-Foot (Age of Assassins). Both are disabled. Both are probably by far the best at what they do but are looked down upon. Especially in this novel, anybody with a disability is known as a son a Keos – who in my mind, is a God who did everything right, but it criminalised. I guess we’ll find out more about this in the next two novels.
Master of Shadows – in our world where everyone is scared about where the next read is coming from and when, and hoping we don’t have to wait a decade for the next book – works perfectly as a standalone. Yes, I do want to read the next entry and there are about three loose threads that I can’t wait to grip onto in #2.
This novel features tragic and sad deaths, utter betrayals, twisty-turny-twisty-turns, phenomenal weapons, and well depicted disabled individuals. The world is gigantic but in this entry, we are mainly focused on Chaenelau and the neighbouring forest. There are many books that this is similar to but in my mind, this is so much better than The Name of The Wind. This is phenomenal. Exquisite. It shows other novels how tropes should be worked to appear new and better than what has come before.