SPFBO Finalist Review: Voice of War by Zack Argyle

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ESME: 

I liked this one from the start. I tend prefer high fantasy over low fantasy, so I get excited about magic being central to the story. I also have a thing for more structured magic systems with clearly defined rules and laws – I’m a big fan o’ science shit so this just vibes well with me. This one ticks those boxes hard and it will be for people who like Brent Weeks/Brandon Sanderson sorts of books.

There are two major types of magic creating blue threadweavers and green threadweavers whose casters have matching eye color to the type of magic they wield. The different magics are in harmony with each other, one type “pushes” and the other “pulls”. Using those powers in different ways allow the wielders to walk up walls, jump high into the air, or become immovable. Every once in a while there’s someone who has heterochromia and can weave both colors, and in very rare instances there are Amber weavers and black weavers (again, with eyes that match). Most people are born with brown eyes and are unable to weave any type of magic and they’re known as achromatics. Each household is allowed two children, but, you can keep a third if they are a magic wielder. If the third child has brown eyes, however, they are blinded and given to the priesthood.

Chrys is a blue weaver and also a General who was once a commoner but has risen through society. He is hesitantly accepted among his peers, but because he’s climbing the ranks so quickly that he’s ruffling feathers on his way up the ladder. He’s also known as the Apogee, and has a voice in his head that he gained after a particularly bloody battle that gave him the nickname Butcher. The voice constantly begs him to let him “free”, but when he does, he blacks out and a bunch of people end up dead. Chrys is constantly struggling with this voice to keep his temper and rage in check. Chrys been assigned to a very important problem the city is facing… there are blood thieves are capturing threadweavers and enslaving them to sell their blood on the black market. Achromatics can drink the blood of a weaver and then are able to have a low level experience of magic – they are able to see the threads but they can’t touch them. ..the experience is novel, exciting, and worth money.

Then there’s Loral. She’s a spunky young kid who wants to get out and see the world. She’s from a culture that are strictly secluded and lives in the wilderness in a tree top city. Down below there are chromawolves, a type of very large dire wolf that can blend into their surroundings. In packs they are incredibly violent and a huge threat to humans. Her people call Chrys’s people “Grounders”, (since they live on the ground), but they keep their distance and have strict and fierce punishments for people who break the rules and try to make contact. Loral is also a thread addict, it’s possible to become dependent on the rush, the strength, and the confidence one gets when light weaving. She’s kicked out of the Messengers for being an addict, and in retaliation she goes into the Grounder city ….. even though her big secret is she escaped capture from that very city she’s returning to.

There are a couple side POV’s that come in much later… like this dude who dies and comes back to life. His chapters started out pretty short and very spread out with the main focus being on Loral and Chrys… but as the book progresses he is slowly worked in as a more important character. His whole chapters are largely spoilery.

The pacing mostly worked for me, especially in the beginning before Alverex (I audiobooked) was introduced. The first 11% of the book was from Chrys’s perspective and it let me get my feet firmly planted in the world, as well as get to know Chrys enough to care about him so I would be excited to get back to his chapters and remember what was going on. From there Loral and he alternated pretty smoothly back and forth. When the page time started to focus more on Alverex I felt the pacing start to get a little uneven, but it’s possible because I just didn’t know the character enough to care about him and I just wanted to get back to the “meat” of the story. The pacing was helped along by the very straight forward prose, there’s not a lot of time spent on being flowery, descriptive, and there isn’t any meandering or meaningless side distractions that branch too far away from the main plot.

The narration for this was great, an excellent choice for this kind of story, a deeper tambour that has diversity in tone and pitch.

Ratings: 

  • Plot: 11/15
  • Characters: 11/15
  • Writing: 12/15
  • Pacing: 12/15
  • World Building: 12/15
  • Originality: 10/15
  • Personal Enjoyment: 7/10

Final Score:  75/100

KRISTEN:

Voice of War is an interesting story that takes place in a world with magic known as Threadweaving. Threads of magic connect all things. People born with blue eyes can pull on threads, and people with green eyes can push on them. Most people are born with brown eyes, and though threadweaving is passed down through families, there is a limit of two children per family unless the third onward are threadweavers. 

This story follows a few people, but mainly Chrys and his wife, who are threadweavers and just about to become parents for the first time. Crys had an evil voice in his head since a brutal war several years back, which he fights to keep control over. Their son is born with amber eyes, which is apparently unheard of, since threadweavers of that type died out years ago. 

And so, there are shenanigans. With magic. Magical threadweaving shenanigans.

I enjoyed Voice of War quite a bit, and listened to the audiobook in just 2 sittings. The narrator, Adam Gold did a fantastic job, I think, and kept me immersed in the story for two shorter-seeming work days. I liked Chrys as a character, and Laurel whose POV we also see the story from occasionally. She is a threadweaver from a secret treetop city. We also get the story from one other POV, that of Alverax (? audiobook, lol) who is the son of a well known thief in a rather corrupt desert city. He might have been my favorite character, had he been introduced into the story a bit sooner.

I thought it was well thought out and well written, with an interesting magic system and likable characters. The last half felt a bit rushed, and the addition of a new character in the later half sort of threw the story off for me, so I can’t say that it’s my favorite of the bunch, but it was a good read.

All told I had a fun time with Voice of War, and hope to continue reading the series. 7.5/10 stars!~

GRAHAM

Voice of War

By Zack Argyle

Voice of War is an interesting book that intrigued me from the start. The worldbuilding is strong with this one, and Argyle grabs his readers by the throat and tosses them straight in, pulling no punches.

Magic is central to Argyle’s world, with magic-users, or threadweavers, identified at birth by means of a ritualised test performed on the eyes. Children are found to be either sapphire, or emerald, threadweavers, with the majority  being achromatic, and having no threadweaving ability.  Being achromatic, other than missing out on magical powers, elevated social standing, and all the cool things that go along with it, doesn’t seem to be a problem… unless this happens to be a couple’s third child. I’m not going to give away what happens then, but I will say that the telling of it was brutal and raw and got me right in the feels. It’s not often a book shocks me or makes me wince like this, but Argyle managed it. I think only readers of Anna Stephen’s Godblind, who understand the significance of a hammer and a nail, will understand just how badly it affected me. If you haven’t, then suffice it to say, it’s powerful, awful, and very well done.

Voice of War essentially tells the tale of two cultures on a collision course. What feels like a more primitive society living in a treetop city, are hiding themselves away from the more advanced “grounders”. Whether the grounders actually are more advanced in any way is up for debate, but that’s how I interpreted it.

The main characters in this book are split across both cultures with the majority of the focus centred on High General Chrys, his wife, and their newborn child. Chrys has worked his way up the ranks, largely in part to his performance in a brutal battle which he appears to have almost won on his own. There is a voice in his head, a dark thing that whispers and begs to be released. This thing, the Apogee, really doesn’t come across as something that plays well with others, and Chrys is in a constant struggle to keep it contained.

In many ways this aspect of the book reminded a little of Abercrombie and the Bloody Nine. In some ways I feel it was better. Chrys is aware of the voice in his head. He knows full well what it is capable of, and he carries the guilt of its actions.  It was nice to see a character with what seems, at least at first, to be some form of mental illness, and Argyle did a great job of it. This isn’t the only instance where neurodiversity plays a role in Voice of War, and I take my hat off to an author who can weave in anxiety as well as he has, without it feeling shoe-horned.

If I have any criticism of Voice of War I’d probably point at the pacing. There are sections of the story that dragged for me and I was more interested in other characters. In some areas the overarching story felt like it was drifting, like Argyle was a pantser not a plotter, and hadn’t tightened up the story quite enough from where he’d meandered a bit. Perhaps I’m way off base, but that’s how it felt to me.

All of that said Voice of War was a good read. The magic system, whilst original, reminds me of Sanderson’s Mistborn. The people of the Fairenwild had an almost fae-like or elven quality to them, though maybe it’s just all those trees. There’s also a hint of something that’s very Robin Hobb about their world, something very Rain Wild about them. It’s good shit and I recommend you read it.

SPFBO score 7.5/10

All three of us gave this a 7.5 so that will be our official score 😀