The Aching God by Mike Shel

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I had heard so much about this one! Many people on my GR friends list have read this one and 5 starred it, including people like Swiff who I tend to have similar taste with – so I was really excited to start 😀 It didn’t let me down!

I love older characters, there’s just something about a more grizzled and life-worn person that makes them more appealing to me. So, I was pretty thrilled to figure out that this is book had one of my favorite tropes! An older badass coming out of retirement story! Auric spent 30 years working for the Syraeic syndicate and got himself into some dire situations which have left him scarred for life, consistently waking himself up due to night terrors where he relives his friend’s deaths every night.

Auric’s wife also committed suicide four years ago after the death of their son – this guy has not had it easy. He went into retirement to try and escape the turmoil and live his last years in peace, but he was summoned to the Citadel on an urgent matter. When he arrives, he finds out that there’s a plague going through the city, it’s incredibly deadly and only two people have survived. To make shit worse, his daughter is one of the afflicted. He and his daughter have a strained relationship and don’t speak with each other too often, but he cares deeply for her and is willing to do whatever it takes to help. Auric is told that the officials have good reason to believe an ancient relic brought up from a dungeon was responsible for the outbreak.

His mission is to return it to the temple to stop the ongoing plague that’s killing people in the tens of thousands. The syndicate has lost so many members that they have to ask for help from a retiree who is a self-confessed broken person. Auric blacks out at the sight of blood, he has tremors in his hands and has to be pulled out from under his bed while having night terrors. I really love the fact that he didn’t come busting out of retirement with guns blazing, this is a guy suffering from severe PTSD and is willingly throwing himself right back into the fire.

Before they can set off for their adventure, however, they have to get permission from the Queen. I love the set up for this queen. Over 100 years ago her people prayed for her life to be spared, she had been an incredible builder, inventor, and overall beloved Queen. A priest from a bizarre sect said that he could save her, and he did, but she came back wrong. She’s just as likely to chop your hands off as she is to grant your request at court for flippant and unpredictable reasons. She’s ancient, she’s been in charge for over 117 years and there doesn’t seem to be an end to it. The priest who “saved” her said she would rule forever and it appears as though he’s right. She moves like a 20-year-old and sounds strong and healthy when she speaks, but her body is deteriorated and smells like a corpse.

I found the main character to be very engrossing, we spend a lot of time in his head and he’s such a different sort of character I liked him immediately. I enjoy seeing people who are truly struggling with inner demons and the challenges they’re presented with rather than just smashing their way through every problem with ease. This guy knows what he’s about, but he is so broken that he’s barely functioning. He also can be full of some pretty sage advice being of more advanced years and having seen a lot of shit go down. I found that the side characters had their own voices, their own motivations, and behavior patterns which made them feel realistic despite being exaggerated at points (The Queen).

The magic in this was creepy and had a really dark overtone – necromancy and the undead play a pretty big part in this story. I’ve been alternating my reads between darker and lighter books and it’s really upping my enjoyment of darker stories. I liked basically everything about the world building, the gods and priests devoted to them were varied and intriguing. The priests devoted to healing magic were the most interesting to me (but I always play Healer Class), they refuse to heal themselves even though they could, to the point where they’d let a leg be amputated over committing the sin of self-healing. The healers are also powerful, able to knit the flesh back together from even the most life-threatening wounds – super useful to take on an expedition into a dungeon.

The tone of this was pretty dark, there was a lot of violence, a good amount of necromantic magic, illness, death, undead etc. However, the main character is a really good person and it’s very easy to root for him, so it balances the world around him nicely, it kept it from getting overly dark.

The writing was very solid, it felt professionally edited and revised. Debut novels often suffer from telling instead of showing or having long info dumps in the narrative to ‘bring the reader up to speed’. Instead, in this one there were bits of world-building dropped in slowly in the dialogue with very little info dumping. There were just a few times where I was told about events or something else in summary to tell me things I already knew either in dialogue or narrative, which was repetitive, but they were brief and didn’t happen that often.

If I were going to have a complaint about the book it would be the pacing, but it may just be a personal thing. I kept waiting to get to this dungeon but that didn’t come around until about 75% through the book. I think if I had known that it wasn’t going to happen until later I would have been less antsy reading it. The story was just as focused on his journey to get to this dungeon as it was about what he was going to do when he got there.

Overall, I really loved this one, it’s my first 5 star in a while and it feels so good 😀

This book still won’t be for everyone though, the world is pretty dark and violent, there’s cursing in it and it’s long – about 600 pages.

Audience: 

  • Single POV
  • older POV
  • PTSD in fantasy
  • darker world with lighter character
  • undead, necromancy, monsters
  • mysterious magic
  • lots of fantasy elements – high fantasy

Ratings: 

  • Plot: 13/15
  • Characters: 14/15
  • World Building: 13.5/15
  • Writing: 13.5/15
  • Pacing: 11/15
  • Originality: 12/15
  • Personal Enjoyment: 9.5/10

Final Score:  86.5/100 – 5 star, highly recommended! 

 

2 comments

  1. Woo! Glad you dug it. This book would be an awesome RPG campaign (or video game) to play. From city to sea to wasteland to dungeon, plus the ticking clock aspect, helped make this book really exciting.

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