200 pages are not exactly short by any standard for literary fiction. In fantasy, however, where stories are told in a secondary world complete with its own lore and history, social and political structure, it does not provide a lot of ground to deliver a complete and balanced narrative. One that sufficiently addresses the necessary aspects of fantasy storytelling of worldbuilding, character development and plot execution. The Armored Saint has all these and with great effect too; and while it is mainly for the reasons above that I am awarding such a high rating for the book, the tale itself is captivating.
The world of The Sacred Throne is oppressive despite having a history of a saviour of all mankind, The Emperor who sacrificed his life in defeating the demons who arrived on this plane through portals; portals from the eyes of those who practised wizardry. The Writ is the sacred text by which the people of the land live by and enforced through the tyrannical rule of The Order who hunts down anyone whom they deem as a wizard with zealous fanaticism. To further highlight the level of obeisance expected, villagers are named by the nature of their trade instead of having a family name of their own. The author managed to weave all this exposition into the narrative in a manner which felt natural and effortless, a feat which I find quite marvellous given the length of the book.
The story grabbed me from the very first chapter, through a scene that is full of tension and yet feels personal through the eyes of sixteen-year-old Heloise Factor. The plot is pretty much a coming-of-age story and is straightforward. It is its execution that lends the narrative a most engaging tone that keeps the pages turning. By keeping the plot simple, and the locality narrow, the author is then able to expand upon the characterization of Heloise, her relationship with her father, her friendship with Clodio, and the ‘unnatural' love she felt for a close female friend.
It is a person you love. Not a name. Not a he or a she. A person in all their shining glory. There is a thing in us, Heloise. A seed. It makes us who we are. It is our core. That the thing that we love. It alone exists. It alone is holy. It has no home, no name. It is neither male nor female. It is greater than that.
The concept of love transcending definition and gender was beautifully described, giving the story a spark of hope amidst the dark brutality and injustices represented by The Order and their strict administration of the Writ.
Myke Cole also clearly has the ability to write action scenes that convey suspense that is palpable. The concluding climax in The Armored Saint is brutal, intense and poignant, albeit not entirely unpredictable.
I am wholly impressed with this novella and look forward to its continuation, The Queen of Crows.