Chasing Graves is the first ever novel I’ve read by Ben Galley. Immediately, I was hooked: by masterful prose; a character with a strongly distinctive voice, personality and a remarkable sphincter (you’ll get what I mean literally two minutes in); and, perhaps above all else, by the city of Araxes, the heart of the Arctian Empire, where the living hold command over the dead.
This is where I’ll begin, with a spoiler-free analysis of a society born when death ceased to matter. Araxes is a slaver’s wet dream made manifest, where the ambitious living plot against each other, their cronies kill new-comers on the very streets at night in order to sell them for a few pieces of silver, and individual power is reflected only by how many shades one owns. But power is a double-edged sword, and the more powerful one grows, the bigger the target they are; so it is that the most powerful man in the Arctian Empire, the Emperor himself, is a passive absentee ruler, commanding his Empire from the inside of a self-made cage. A society with as a high a tolerance for murder and intrigue as that of Araxes can only get worse without a strong figurehead at the reins to legitimise everything that goes on.
Enter Caltro Basalt, locksmith extraordinaire and the most fascinating character this novel has to offer. Caltro’s sections are written in the first-person unlike all other characters’, which goes a long way towards making him sympathetic and his plight relatable. Caltro is a Krassman, invited by a mysterious Arctian nobleman to do an even more mysterious job. Caltro is a dead man within a few minutes of disembarking on Araxes. Thank the dead gods, then, that he doesn’t become more of a dullard in death, for his humour and caustic attitude towards those in (his) charge brings no end of amusement, even if it gets him into some pretty deep trouble. The third of the book that deals with his trials and tribulations as a newly minted shade will pull at your heartstrings!
The cast of main characters outside of Castro is just as promising, though the narrative distance between the other three main PoV characters and the reader is greater; they’re told in the third-person. My favourite among these was Nilith, a woman dragging a corpse through a desert in order to claim its shade as her own in Araxes. Her place in the overarching story isn’t too difficult to figure out about a third into Chasing Graves, but it doesn’t take away from the arc, and there’s a lot of praise I want to give about the hateful relationship between Nilith and the shade of the man she murdered. Nilith’s arc is about pure will in the face of one disaster after another.
The other two main characters are engaged in the bloody politics and/or streets of Araxes; the empress-in-waiting, Sisine, who plays a dangerous game in the absence of her father; and Boss Temsa, a soultrader, soulstealer and a man possessed of rabid ambition. Temsa might grow to be my favourite or most loathed of these characters, in fact, depending on what Ben is planning on doing with him over the next two books in this new trilogy; one thing is certain though, each of these character arcs is brimming with untapped potential.
Underneath the murder-y plot lies an underside of religion, mysticism and dead gods. These things, abandoned by the living and the dead alike, seem to draw some inspiration from Egyptian lore – as does the geography, for that matter. However, this inspiration is turned on its heels, as
Dialogue: 10/10 There wasn’t a moment I didn’t feel like the characters were anything less than three-dimensional human beings (alive or dead, it didn’t matter) gifted with agency or, in the case of shades like Caltro, seeking to regain it from their masters.
Prose: 10/10 I need more of it. Galley shows mastery over language and its use, with which he paints detailed scenes, which work like Swiss clockwork. Or did the Swiss make good pocket knives? I forget these things.
Characters: 9/10 Whether we speak of the PoV leads or the wide array of supporting characters, there’s an awful lot of memorable personalities in Chasing Graves.
Necromancy-Infused Society: 10/10 I love hating what Galley is saying about human society with this one!
Personal Enjoyment: 9/10 Why not a 10? The book ends on a cliffhanger. Now, that would be a bigger problem if I didn’t know for a fact the second book will release in…January, was it?
Chasing Shadows might well be one of the best releases not only for December but for the entirety of 2018. I give it my heartiest recommendations and give it a score of 4.8 out of 5, rounded up to 5/5 on Goodreads!
I’m looking forward to blazing through the rest of this trilogy over the first half of 2019!
I received this book from the author in return for an honest review! It's to be released on December 7!