The title of Shadow of a Dead God caught my attention way back before books were even split up between judging groups, and I had high hopes right up until the point I got my hands on it. The cover is a bit cliché, with the dark-robed figure facing away from the viewer, but clichés are cliché for a reason. It works for me and made me even more eager to get started. All of this built up an expectation for this book, which was probably unfair, and which would be very hard to live up to. Did it deliver? Hell, yes. And in spades!
Shadow of a Dead God opens with the protagonist hiding in a cupboard. Mennik Thorn is a mage for hire, an odd position for a class of people that are usually immensely wealthy. Instead “Nik” is a down-on-his-luck freelance mage, who is barely scraping by. If you could imagine Harry Dresden in a fantasy world with half the resources, half the natural talent, and double the snark, you wouldn’t be far wrong.
As the story opens, Nik has fallen about as low as is possible without actually drowning in gutter water. So, when his childhood friend, Benny, comes to him for help with a job, Nik doesn’t have much choice. Benny is a friend, but he’s also a thief, and Nik knows the gig will be bad news before he even hears the details. Add into the mix that the task in question involves stealing from a High Mage, then it’s about as insane as it gets.
When things go predictably, and horribly, wrong, and a master servant ends up killed by a magical trap, both Benny and Nik end up suspected of murder. What’s worse, is it looks like Nik was the intended victim.
SoaDG is told in the first person, which I found works perfectly for this book. At its heart this is a detective story as Nik fights a race against time, his own horrendous luck, and the scheming of three rival High Mages to save his skin and his friends.
The pacing is fantastic. I never felt that the book was flagging, or even slowing. Samphire drags you through this book as a breakneck pace and I wasn’t complaining.
Possibly one of the best things about this book though, is the worldbuilding. Shadow of a Dead God has some wonderfully original concepts: magical abilities powered by the rotting corpses of gods, an elite guard force tasked with curbing the excesses of the mages, three High Mages effectively ruling the city and managing a carefully structured balance of power, all set within a socially segregated city that just feels real.
The prose is great, with flowing dialogue which perfectly matches the snarky tone of the characters, and this, along with the “working class wizard” is probably the reason I likened this to Dresden. Samphire’s characters are fully formed and fleshed out, all with their own quirks and agency. I particularly liked the fact that none of his characters can claim to be perfect. Their flaws are what make them both realistic and relatable.
I could go on, but I run the risk of dropping massive spoilers. It’s hard to find fault with this book. The writing was polished, the editing clean, and the cover was professional. Shadow of a Dead God is everything you didn’t know you needed. All in all, a great book.
SPFBO score – 9/10 – Graham
I really loved the opening of this, I have a thing for down-on-their-luck characters and this opener had a mage stuck in a cupboard trying to find ghosts he didn’t think existed for a shitty client who looks down her nose at him. Mages typically do well for themselves in this world, but for reasons that aren’t explained at the beginning, Nik is stuck doing odds jobs that barely make ends meet.
Nik has a friend named Benny… this friend is a low-level thief and con man living his life on barter of favors owed to him. He reminds me just a touch of Nobby Nobs because when he’s called out on his thieving he tends to act like the person has no idea what they’re talking about, and of COURSE he never was anywhere near that stolen item. This makes Nik very apprehensive to agree to help… who knows what Benny is about to get him involved in, but because he doesn’t want to potentially lose the only friend he has, he relents and agrees to help. The favor is a huge one, though. It involves breaking in the palace of a high mage and taking something out of it – what is most likely an impossible task.
When they find the item (a business ledger) something goes horribly wrong, and a master servant ends up dead. The ledger was booby trapped and Nik thinks the target was supposed to be himself and Benny, and now he’s got to figure out who wants them dead, or why they would want to frame him for murder.
The world-building was fantastic. I love it when I’m not getting info dumps via dialogue, when it comes together naturally without learning a large chunky history lesson. There’s so much world-building, too. Grey City, Middle City, Upper City all had distinct social classes, culture, and even accents. Everything was very detailed and thought out without being overwhelming. I love the idea of the Ash Guard, they are in effect a checks and balances system to the high mages. The ash they cover themselves in dispels and neutralizes any magic in the area rendering mages helpless. Different people internalize magic in different ways. MC sees colors, but other people taste it or hear music – and the magic itself is all stemmed from the decaying bodies of dead gods. Neat shit. I also love how the Gods in this world aren’t the typical God of Water or God of War or that kind of thing. The high mage that Nik tried to steal the ledger from is a worshiper of the God of Bees, and there are flowers strewn throughout his palace. It creates a lot of neat imagery.
The prose made me fly through this book, the dialogue is great, Benny had a distinct dialect but it wasn’t beating me over the head with it. I think dialects are most effectively used when it’s a light sprinkle rather than heavy usage that makes me slow down and re-read things to make sure I understood what the character was saying. The imagery used wasn’t based in descriptors which is very helpful for me. I struggle to create an image in my head based off phrasing like “pointed leathery face”, instead this author described Benny like this: “I had seen corpses dragged out of buried temples that had aged better” and that does help me ‘see’ the characters. I have one tiny nitpick with the prose and it’s that the word “microscopic” was used – now this world had musket style guns so maybe they do have a microscopes, but it wasn’t mentioned again after that so I can’t be sure.
The pacing was steady, I wouldn’t say it was constant action, this was more of a slow burn whodunnit type deal – but I never felt bored, I never felt like it dragged. I was really engaged because I was enjoying the main character so much. I feel like I got to know him very well and because of that it was easy for me to sink into the rest of the story. Nik is relatable despite not being well liked by his peers in the Grey City, he’s snarky which keeps him entertaining, and he’s loyal to his friends. He’s not a hero who rushes into danger without a second thought, but he’s not a coward, he’s a down to earth and easy to believe character rather than being overpowered and larger than life. I really enjoyed him.
Since this is still in the running for SPFBO I’m going to decline an official rating, I don’t want to step on toes or have someone read this and think this is an official score for SPBFO, it isn’t! It’s just another bloggers perspective – we are all different and like different things so all I’ll say is best of luck to Patrick going forward in the competition! May the odds ever be in your favor!
- Plot: 13.5/15
- Characters: 13/15
- World Building: 14/15
- Writing: 13.5/15
- Pacing: 13/15
- Originality: 13/15
- Personal Enjoyment: 10/10
Final Score: 90/100 – Esme
Shadow of a Dead God follows Mennik Thorn, a mage in the city of Agatos. He’s not a very good mage comparatively to others in the city, and sells his services doing thing like curse breaking and ghost removal.
When Nik’s best friend Benny is hired to steal a ledger from a high mage and their heist goes absolutely wrong, Nik and Benny find themselves accused of murder. With Benny’s life on the line, it’s up to Nik to find out what really happened.
I really enjoyed this one. Nik is the type of character that I immediately latch onto. He is snarky, foul-mouthed, and quite witty. We get this story from his POV and his inner thoughts on some of these situations are often hilarious.
This was a really easy read, and the sort of book that I pick up for a few minutes here and there and before I know it I’m halfway through because I couldn’t put it down. I read this one well into the night, at work, and pretty much anywhere else I could find a few minutes to sit down with it.
The mystery stayed mysterious. I didn’t really try and guess at it, but just let it play out. The world and the characters in it were well fleshed out and I am eager to read more about them. The magic system was interesting, and mages were usually powerful while not being infallible. Agatos felt like a more modern city, having things like running water and toilets, while still giving me a distinct ‘epic fantasy in a sprawling world full of gods and magic vibe’. I had a great time with Shadow of a Dead God, and I can’t wait to read more!
8.5/10 stars!~ Kristen