Review: DOWN AMONG THE DEAD by K.B. Wagers

Publisher: Orbit Books
Page Count: 413
Release Date: December 3rd, 2019
Series: THE FARIAN WAR, Book 2
Rating: 4/5 Stars – Really Liked It

Note: I was given a free review copy of this book by the publisher in return for my fair and honest review. 

WARNING: Light spoilers ahead for Book 1, THERE BEFORE THE CHAOS.  Haven’t read it yet?  Check out my review here!

down-among-the-dead-cover

Hail Bristol, Empress of the Indranan Empire, has just suffered a devastating loss.  With war erupting between the Farian and the Shen, she tried to broker peace negotiations between the two races, only for the summit to be betrayed – but by whom, she doesn’t know.  The attack killed several of her closest friends and allies, and in the chaos she was captured by the Shen and whisked away to their hidden home planet.  There, the Shen lay out a proposal.  Seers from both the Shen and the Farian contingent have seen a great conflict coming, and Hail is at the center; her decisions and actions will decide the outcome.  The Shen want her to fight on their side, and that means taking the fight to the Farian gods themselves, powerful beings who have dominated and controlled the Farians for centuries.  It’s a fight that could very well kill Hail, but with the alternative being the death of everyone in her empire, does she really have a choice?

DOWN AMONG THE DEAD continues a different kind of journey for Hail Bristol than her previous trilogy, but one that is no less engrossing to read.  Those who’ve read THE INDRANAN WAR (and if you haven’t yet, go do so now!) know those books were packed with action, as Hail dealt with coups, civil war, and being chased across the galaxy by her enemies.  THE FARIAN WAR trilogy has been focused less on action, and more on the emotional fallout of what came before.  DOWN AMONG THE DEAD sees Hail fall into depression over the loss of her friends, convinced that no matter what she does, she can’t keep the people closest to her safe.  In fact, the book begins with a content warning from the author about themes of depression and thoughts of self-harm.  Hail begins to follow a dangerous emotional path – sure, the training the Shen are putting me through is beyond brutal, but I’m a failure, so I deserve this, don’t I?

This is a depression the Shen are all too willing to stoke, and while it occasionally comes off as wallowing, when you take a step back this depression makes complete sense.  It’s only been six months since the end of the Indranan War, and less than a year in total has passed in the series as a whole.  In that time, Hail has faced betrayal, death of friends in war, bodyguards who have knowingly sacrificed their lives, and emotional torture at the hands of the man who spent decades tearing apart her family.  The latest string of deaths was simply the straw that broke the camels back.  Hail learning to come out of that depression is part of her journey and one she has to make before she is ready to face the Farian gods.

Don’t worry that this is an entire book of Hail sitting in a corner being introspective.  Even in her depression, Hail is a woman of action, and that means training to fight the Farian gods and learning how to deal with their various abilities.  And Hail still has a few friends left in her corner, friends who work hard to get Hail to confront her grief and find a healthy way to handle it, to remind her again and again that there are still things still worth fighting for.  Keeping everyone on their toes is the knowledge that not everyone agrees how to best handle the coming conflict,  which means that Hail isn’t completely safe from internal attacks either. This book ends as the confrontation with the gods begins, leaving a cliff hanger I can’t wait to return to in Book 3!

Once again, the weak point in this series continues to be the very sketchy details about the other alien races.  It’s something I’ve learned to accept at this point, that we’ll never really know for sure what the Svatir or the other alien races look like (though they all seem to be more or less humanoid), or deeper details about their societies.  We do get more info about the Farians this time around, which was definitely welcome, but I continue to wish the alien races were a little more fleshed out.

In short, if you’re a fan of Hail Bristol, you won’t be disappointed by this latest installment.  And if you haven’t started the series about the smuggler-turned-empress with her own special brand of diplomacy, I highly recommend it!

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