Review: MASTER OF SORROWS by Justin Call

Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Page Count: 656
Release Date: February 25th, 2020
Series: THE SILENT GODS, Book 1
Rating: 4/5 Stars – Really Liked It

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

39308821Annev has one last chance to pass a test that will decide the course of his fate.  At seventeen, he’s been training for years to become an avatar, a warrior who will travel from the hidden village of Chaenbalu in search of magical artifacts, tasked with reclaiming them by any means necessary and returning them to the Vault of Damnation so that their taint will not corrupt the world any longer.  But Annev also has a secret: he was only born with one arm, a deformity he’s kept hidden thanks to a magical artifact provided by his mentor.  To have any sign of physical imperfection is to be declared marked by the evil god Keos, and the penalty for such a marking is death.  With only one slot left in the ranks of the avatars, Annev must find a way to prove his worth, or be forever bound as a steward to the Academy, forbidden from marrying the girl he loves or ever leaving the village. But as the trial draws nearer, Annev begins making discoveries that lead him to believe that, in his case, the superstitions about being claimed by an evil god might not be so far-fetched after all.

There’s a trope in video games, especially RPGs, where you as the hero begin your journey in your home town.  You spend a few hours running all over this town meeting friends, family, rivals, and that old crazy man who lives at the edge of town.  You learn how your abilities work, run a few quests, pick up tantalizing hints about prophecies and your own mysterious backstory, before an Incident thrusts you into the great big world and you begin to journey across the continent in earnest.

Now imagine that all of the above was well-written and action-packed, but that the game left you a “To Be Continued” message just as you left town.  That, in a nutshell, is MASTER OF SORROWS.  The first in a series that promises to be several books long, SORROWS straddles a strange line of being a fully self-contained, fairly dense story that at the same time barely scratches the surface of the overall mythology of the world at large.  When you first open your book, you’re greeted with a large map of the world, yet you’ll spend almost the entire tale in one tiny village in a forest, only hearing second-hand snippets about the world at large.  If you are expecting to jump right into a high fantasy tale crisscrossing that criss-crosses a continent, traveling from city to city, temper your expectations now.  What would normally be the first third of the first book in an epic fantasy series is instead is own book.

But despite (or maybe because of) being a contained premise in a larger world, MASTER OF SORROWS is a tale that moves briskly, continuously raising the stakes as events unfold. My eARC didn’t have a page count, so I was more than surprised to find out after the fact that the book clocks in at 656 pages; a book of that length usually takes me about 10 days, yet here I was plowing through SORROWS in under a week. The pacing wasn’t perfect – although there were large chunks where I couldn’t put the book down, there were also some sections early on that were a bit dry and info-dumpy.  These sections usually had to do with magic and the world at large, and since we barely leave the forest confines of the Brakewood in this book, it was world-building that was a little too abstract to the immediate concerns of the plot to be meaningful to me.

Thankfully, this is a compelling story of one young boy trying desperately to hold onto his dreams in a world that seems increasingly determined to snatch them from him.  Annev has one last chance to be something bigger, to become a trusted warrior fighting the forces of evil.  But part of Annev’s struggle is that he wants to have it all.  He wants to see the big world, he wants to get the girl, he wants to be part of the guild that crushes magic, and he wants to maintain his relationship with a mentor who is viewed as borderline heretical by the Church. Oh, and if ANYONE found out about his missing arm, he would be immediately stoned to death.  Annev balances on a knife’s edge, and his desperation to cling to the future he envisions for himself brings him to make increasingly rash promises.  Annev slowly has to come to grips that if he doesn’t start making hard choices, he’s going to lose everything.

MASTER OF SORROWS on its own is a fantastic adventure, one I very much enjoyed reading.  At times I did wish I knew more about the world at large and how Annev and his prophecy fit into it.  It was both frustrating and enticing: frustrating because I at times felt like I was adrift and disconnected from the world I was reading about, but enticing because I loved what world building WAS there.  The magic is fun and powerful, and the action breakneck.  MASTER OF SORROWS is both a story in its own right, and also a prologue; I’m sure that future installments will continue to expand the mythology that was only tantalizingly teased in this first book.  Know going in that this is the first step in a much larger journey, and you’re sure to be in for a good time.

 

 

 

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