The Traitor God by Cameron Johnston

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Edrin Walker is an exiled mage who has been on the run for more than ten long years. It’s been a hard life, he’s lived mostly on the move going from tavern to tavern just one step ahead of those who are hunting him. He has a lot of debt that’s built up over the years, he managed to fix that by faking his death. The demons are harder to shake off, however, and shadow cats stalk him from town to town. One night as he was enjoying some ale (which mages aren’t supposed to do) someone busts down the door and throws a latern inside lighting the tavern on fire. He manages to get out of the tavern just in time to see ships landing in the dockside town, the Skagrills came to raid the village and he needs to get out of there quickly. When he’s trying to find a way to escape, which to him seems like a better plan than staying and valiantly fighting the invaders, he’s struck down by a vision. He’s Gift-bonded, it’s an illegal practice that links two minds together forming a very strong bond. His best friend Lynas is connected to him and he sends a shrieking message down their connection. Not only is Edrin in trouble, but so is Lynas and they’re both about to die.

Edrin was fortunate enough to escape his encounter, but his friend Lynas was not, he feels the Gift-bond weaken and vanish after his friends death and he’s left reeling from the ordeal. Lynas was more to him than just a friend, and closer to him than a brother – these two were linked in more ways than one and he’s absolutely determined to find out who killed him and why, and take his revenge. He boards passage on a boat headed for the land he was exiled from, and the place where his friend was murdered. His friends wife, Charra, helps him explore the city and search for clues as to what happened to his friend, it leads down a lot of dark paths and he uncovers a huge scandal. Edrin is also uncovering secrets within his own mind, as part of his agreement during his exile he had his memory wiped of a very important and probably dangerous event. All he knows is that involved the death of a god, and that all of the gods have recently gone silent, the priests claiming their gods are blind and bound.

For the first part of the book I didn’t know if I was going to like Edrin, he was kind of a prick and extremely self centered. He does sort of stay in the grey area for a lot of the book, he doesn’t mind killing people too much and his selfishness is pervasive throughout. However, there were redeeming qualities to him that built up over time and made me change my mind about the halfway point. He is extremely loyal to those he cares about, and he manages to keep a friendship with Charra that remained not-sexual and just genuine platonic affection. I kept expecting to see a romance there and it never came, it was kind of refreshing. The guy is also very self aware, he cherished his friend Lynas because he kept him grounded and was his backup conscience when his own started to fail. He recognized that being friends with Lynas kept whatever part of him that was honorable alive even if just barely. He also has a soft spot for the downtrodden and underdogs, often giving to the poor even if he thinks that it may just get spent on drugs. He’s a character that struggled with his morality and toed the line without going over so much that I couldn’t root for him.

I really liked the world building in this, it was pretty extensive but it didn’t suffer from long info dumps, there was info slowly trickled in throughout that opened the world slowly. Magic in this world is described as a “worm”, something that gets into your mind and begs you to let go and let it overwhelm you. People often fall into madness if they channel too often or open themselves up too much. There are also clear distinctions in power level, with street illusionists being at the bottom end, the lesser-gifted, the Magus, and the Archmagus with each class being considerably stronger than the one before it. It’s a mysterious magic system rather than a hard magic system and the powers range from aeromancy, to hydromancy, to pyromancy etc. Edrin holds a forbidden form of magic that allows him to take control over a person’s mind, people are usually executed if they’re found using it, and it’s what makes his Gift-bond with Lynas illegal. It’s technically called “tyranny” or “enslavement” by society, but he prefers to call it “peoplemancy”. There are lots of different monsters and creatures both tropey and original, Shadow Cats are the size of horses and not to be fucked with. I liked the fact that there are conflicting histories about the gods, and that the gods are believed to have once been human. Mageblood has magical properties and it’s legal to sell since it has legit magical uses and down on their luck mages can use it for a quick dollar. It is, however, an addictive substance and people burn their minds out on it. There’s a creepy as shit gang of women known as the Smilers, and each of their members had their mouths cut at the creases going upwards to create permanently scarred smiles… like the Joker. Also not to be fucked with.

This one is written in the first person past tense with quick and to the point prose, it leads to a very fast read. The pacing was pretty spot on, there was always something going on that was interesting even during ‘downtime’ where there wasn’t any immediate danger. There were a few awkward or repetitive phrases or bits of dialogue that didn’t quite work, but they were few and far between so it didn’t take away from my enjoyment.

Audience:

  • demons
  • greyer characters
  • first person writing
  • fast paced
  • lots of magic
  • mysterious magic
  • greyer character
  • darker without being grimdark

Ratings:

  • Plot: 12.2/15
  • Characters: 12.5/15
  • World Building: 13/15
  • Writing: 11.25/15
  • Pacing: 12/15
  • Originality: 11.3/15
  • Personal Enjoyment: 8/10

Final Score: 80.25/100 – or 4.1/5 – recommended!

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