Gods of the Wyrdwood by R.J. Barker

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I love this author tremendously. Every series they have put out has just been enrapturing. As I have stated in many other reviews I read a fuck-load of books. Just a stupid amount of stories floating around in this head. When I hit something new, different, something I haven’t seen before I get so pumped. This author tends to be extraordinarily original with species both fauna and flora original to his works, and this book took that concept to new heights.

I admit, the first 15-20% I was getting very nervous that it was too much, that there were just too many new elements to have them all settle correctly in my head. The world is dense and there is basically zero “hand holding” or exposition to explain all these different terms, people, places, things, animals etc. It was a touch overwhelming at first, like being thrown in the deep end. However, my persistence was rewarded with clarity as I continued to see these words in context and gathered more and more context until all the new terminology fell into place. It’s a little bit of work, you’ve got to pay attention, but the payoff is enormous.

Okay. So this follows two main POV and they are like night and day from one another, but they’re both powerful and fascinating people. Cahan is a defunct priest, he was whisked away involuntarily as a child to go train as a priest and everyone he loves dies. His whole family is dead by the time he returns — this is not a spoiler IMHO as it happens very early on. It leaves Cahan a broken, lonely, bitter, “old” man at 35. Most people don’t make it to that age, IIRC, or they’re just considered old at that point. As someone turning 36… I both understand and resent this.

Cahan is also “clanless”, and in this world that makes life extremely difficult, it makes you an “other”, and it’s impossible not to notice. Each clan has their own face paint, and without any paint you are very easily ostracized and picked out of a crowd. I really really loved the nuances in the face paint… not only does this tell you what clan people belong to but the subtleties can tell you their personality. Is the paint evenly applied, neatly applicated? Has it been redone recently or has it just been on there for days and it’s chipping away? Is it caked on haphazardly? Is it coming off after several days of non-application? Or is it meticulous and measured and perfect looking? Someone’s face can tell you much more about them than in ours.

Our other POV is a woman risen to power, she used to scrape for food, be kicked down by society, and was basically living an oppressed life… but she grew to power and has ended up as “High Lyric” which is like the high priest of all the priests, I guess something like the pope. There’s a definite hierarchical structure to the various gods and their monks and priests. She’s got a non-binary child, in this world called a trion, and she’s just…. a horrible mother. She WANTS to do right, but in the most twisted fucked up ways. This is a brutal world. It’s not for soft people. But her child is the softest of soft. To bring out the power within a Cowl-Rai, you must kill something first to feed the power. Dev absolutely outright refuses to do so, and it’s driving Kirven to the brink of insanity. Kirven has no issues with cruelty, she revels in her public executions and does not understand why her child refuses to take hold of the power they have and use it. She’s trying in all the wrong ways to bond and help her child. She’s smart, though. She knows how to manipulate people, a crowd, and get her way… making her very dangerous.

This takes a very long time to get into, it has an excessively slow burn. But the world opens up as you hit the halfway point, everything sort of comes together, and I really started to care about Cahan and wish for his success as much as the downfall of Kirven. I haven’t hated a character like that in a long time.

I really loved the writing. I found it to be very memorable and quotable and satisfying to read. “He spoke in the way of people who believed themselves important, with scant regard for how little he knew, or how loud he was.” I think we’ve all met people like this, and within a sentence I knew a character pretty well. I love that kind of stuff.

I also loved that this could be really dark at points, but it’s not unrelenting. I often find when a book is nothing but dark, dark, darker, even darker — it loses meaning. Eventually I become darkness exhausted and without a counterpoint to provide contrast it becomes just nothing. Having a character who wants to do right (Cahan), who has a heart but is stuck in a world like this provides contrast which allows you to really understand the depths of the darkness.

Brilliant book. Loved it. 5 stars.