I have loved other books by Ben Galley so when I was in a reading slump I decided to jump around in my reading order to get to this one, hoping for a little boost. This was the correct decision, it jump-started my love of reading again.
The opening of this is a very short prelude and the first thing that struck me was how atmospheric it was, it’s very descriptive without falling into the “purple” prose trap where it’s overdone. I felt the heat of the desert, smelled the decaying bodies, and was totally sucked into the setting in just a few pages.
What’s interesting is this book goes back and forth between first person and third person POV depending on which character we’re following.
I consider the first person POV to be the main POV, and I certainly liked him the most. Caltro actually has a great sense of humor which nicely balanced the rather bleak storyline this book focuses on. I feel if he wasn’t as humorous as he was, I wouldn’t have gotten on board as much with this story because it may have been overly dark.
He’s not a violent person or a fighter – he’s actually pretty chubby and out of shape. I find that really refreshing in a main character since so often our protagonists are super-powerful and usually ‘beautiful’. He’s a locksmith/thief and he’s received a summons from someone who lives in a huge tower known as the Cloudpeircer in the very violent city of Araxes. He doesn’t know who this person is, but he’s dying to find out who knows him and is also wealthy enough to live in this giant spire. Curiosity gets the best of him and despite his hesitations about visiting a city that’s known for murder and soul-stealing, he decides to go check it out. This was a bad decision. He figures that out as soon as he steps off the boat in Araxes. He’s immediately chased down by a gang of soulstealers, then he’s murdered, and then his ghost is brought back and is enslaved. In this world, it’s possible for people to remove a ghost from its body and force it into labor.
The dead in this world are bought and sold, and depending on how they died you get more or less money for their ghosts. Those that died violent deaths and are scarred are worth less money because the scars carry over to their shade form. Those who have been disemboweled still have guts hanging out as shades. So, Caltro’s body wasn’t supposed to be worth much since he had his throat slit and he had been stabbed multiple times. While he was dead, before he was wrenched back through a binding – a ghost on the other side speaks to him. The ghost says things like: “We call upon the locksmith, the harbinger of change” “you will go back with our gift” “Stop them. Save us. Save yourself”. It’s cryptic and Caltro doesn’t know what’s going on, but it’s a big clue in that Caltro will have a big impact on the world, and possibly bring an end to this enslavement of souls. Copper is used to keep the shades in line, shades can’t feel much once they’re dead. They don’t sleep, they don’t eat – they can’t even smell. But, when touched with copper it’s like a firey lash that sends pain through their vaporous forms.
Once Caltro died, he was sold to a woman named Widow Horix, a very sly and intelligent older woman who has a host of shades at her disposal. He’s incredibly bitter about his situation and he’s constantly plotting a way to get out of his enslavement. She’s actually somewhat interested in what Caltro has to say, but only to a point. She asks him what it’s like to be dead since she’s elderly and will die soon herself.
It’s numb. Cold, both inside and out. I can’t feel much apart from the sting of copper, which I seem to have felt frequently since dying. It’s like I tread on frozen feet half the time. They’re like stumps. Holding things is hard. Infuriating. I miss sleep awfully and I’d happily take a nightmare in an instant if it meant I could dream. Oh, but what hurts the most is the irreversibility and injustice of my situation. To be nothing but a ghost. To own nothing but a scarf. To have the knowledge that I was murderd, robbed of my life and freedom, yet know there’s hardly anything I can do to change it. To know that I am a dead slave, and will be, most probably, for all of eternity.
The originality of this blew me away, I’ve read about the undead, ghosts, sentient ghosts etc. But I’ve never come across a storyline quite like this one – it was a breath of fresh air and I really needed it to get back in the saddle for reading.
There are a few other storylines as well. Nilith just killed her husband and has his soul and is dragging his body back to Araxes to bind his body in the Grand Nyxwell. This marriage was never a good one, he was drinking and sleeping around and never really wanted to marry Nilith in the first place. She’s a rather rough person, worn down over the 22 years she’s been strapped to a husband that doesn’t love her, and sees an opportunity to claim his riches. When you hand over a soul, you inherit their wealth, so she’s dragging his corpse through the desert trying to get to Araxes so she can be wealthy and move far away.
There’s also a pov of the Empress-in-waiting who’s hearing about disappearances of nobles, they vanish along with their ‘shades’ and fortunes. It’s not unusual in a city like this for people to go missing, or untimely deaths to occur. But, too many of them can raise eyebrows.
The writing in this was just superb, I feel like he’s stepped up his prose game and really went all out. The writing was smooth, fluid and beautiful at times. It never failed to create an awesome atmosphere where I could see exactly what was going on. As a personal thing, I really don’t like fake cursing – so in his previous books, I’ve just kind of pushed through the fake cursing and tried to ignore it. This book uses fuck! It’s honestly a relief because it’s used a lot (100+), and if it had been something like frick I would have been pretty annoyed. He even uses the word fucktart, which is a new favorite term of mine.
The pacing, for the most part, was very fluid and smooth. There is a new POV introduced at 21% that slowed me down a bit, I was so interested in what was happening to Caltro that hitting a new POV slowed me down just a bit, but once I got a handle on how that storyline fit with everything else it was fast-paced.
I’ve read some other reviews for this book, and the most common complaint is that people get much more attached to Caltro than the other POV’s. I have to admit it’s the same for me, but it didn’t bother me nearly as much as other people. Since Caltro is the only first person POV and the others are in third, it makes his chapters much more intimate and we get to know him much more than the others. I think it didn’t bother me as much because I still found the other POV’s interesting despite not getting as attached to them as I did with Caltro. This is a solid book with a very interesting premise that I can highly recommend!
- multi pov
- darker stories
- enslaved pov
- rich world building
- atmospheric writing
- high fantasy
- First and third person writing
- Plot: 13/15
- Characters: 13.5/15
- World Building: 14/15
- Writing: 13.5/15
- Pacing: 12/15
- Originality: 14/15
- Personal Enjoyment 10/10
Loved this too. Loved his “earthy” descriptions instead of “epic.” Made everything seem more real. One of my favourite books this year.