Gary is a small town Irishman with a love for all things historical and fantastical. He works as an English and History teacher at post-primary where he endeavours to instil and nurture a love for reading and writing in students. Tea is his weakness. Reading is his passion. His one goal in life is to buy a castle when he retires.
Author: Giles Kristian
Genre: Historical fiction. Horror. Fantasy(?)
First Published: 2021
Rating: 5 stars
In absentia lucis, tenebrae vincunt. In the absence of light, darkness prevails.
It is no secret that I am a big fan of Giles Kristian’s writing. I have digested three of his books so far including his stellar Lancelot & Camelot duology and God of Vengeance, the first in his epic Viking series, The Rise of Sigurd, and have praised his excellent characterisation, lyrical prose and remarkable storytelling. His new novella, Hellmouth, not only boasts all three but is also permeated with a raw horror that genuinely terrified me as I listened to it in the middle of the night.
Voice of War is the first book in Zack Argyle’s Threadlight series and a finalist in this year’s Self-Publishing Fantasy Blog Off (SPFBO #6). I have heard very good things about this book on social media where it has received plenty of high praise, and so went in with high expectations. Although it has some great characters and a cool magic system that is central to the plot, it unfortunately did not quite live up to the hype for me.
The main protagonist Chrys Valerian is definitely one of the best things about the novel. Chrys is a Sapphire threadweaver meaning he has the ability to push on magical threads of light that boost his strength, speed and manoeuvrability. As one of the three high generals in the nation of Alchea, he is tasked with rooting out the Bloodthieves, a self-explanatory group fond of kidnapping threadweavers. He must balance this responsibility with that of his responsibility as both a husband and soon-to-be father. At the same time, he harbours a dark secret; he shares his mind with that of the Apogee, a demon / alternate personality that earned him his reputation and rank during the War of the Wastelands. Chrys is constantly haunted by the Apogee in a similar way to how Malus Darkblade is plagued by the demon Tz’arkan in Warhammer Fantasy. This internal conflict makes for some of the best moments in the book. Chrys is a brilliant character and I found myself fully invested in his story from beginning to end.
Laurel is the youngest of the three protagonists. She is a free-spirited threadweaver from the hidden tree-top city of Zedalum in the Fairenwilds. Like Chrys, she is a Sapphire threadweaver. She serves as a messenger spy for her people. Carefree and curious, it is not long before she finds herself a hostage of the Bloodthieves which ultimately leads to a meeting with Chrys, a meeting that changes her life forever. I found Laurel to be the weakest of the three main protagonists due to her plot armour and clichéd rebellious nature. There is nothing wrong with using the trope but Argyle doesn’t do anything readers haven’t seen before, which is fine, but it just felt mediocre here. Nevertheless, I did warm to her eventually as I came to appreciate the subtle theme of addiction that underpins her story. It leads to some very questionable decisions especially towards the end and it will be interesting to see where her story goes in the next book.
Lastly, there is Alverax. He serves as an excellent contrast to Chrys and Laurel in terms of setting, plot and ability. The first time we meet him he wakes up in a pit of bones in the middle of the desert with no memory of how he got there. Over the course of his chapters we see him slowly regaining his memory while discovering his abilities and clashing with the rulers of the free city of Cynosure. Whereas Chrys is extremely sombre and Laurel doggedly rebellious, Alverax is very charismatic. He is the most likeable of the three and I really enjoyed his chapters. In fact, they work very well on their own. If Voice of War was just about Alverax, I would happily pick it up.
There are other character viewpoints scattered throughout the novel, including from the perspective of one of the book’s villains. I always enjoy reading these viewpoints. Unfortunately, the villains in Voice of War are nothing special. There are perhaps three in total but only one is given any sense of conviction in their actions. Another only makes an appearance for a couple of pages before disappearing altogether.
This leads me to the other main issue I had with Voice of War and that is its structure. There is a fine line between unorthodox and disjointed and I am disappointed to say that I found it leaning more towards the latter. For example, just as the story is starting to build momentum with some very cool revelations, it completely switches to another story and we spend about five chapters with a character that we first met for a single chapter about a third of the way through the novel. It took me completely out of the main story when things were starting to get really interesting and I was becoming invested. And when we do finally get back to it, all sense of momentum is lost. However, Argyle does pick it back up right before the end though with a very good ending that makes me want to read the sequel to find out what happens next.
Overall, Voice of War is a bit of a mixed bag. It has some truly great characters and a very cool magic system that is absolutely essential to the plot. However, its villains and pacing hold it back from being the great book it could be.
Booknest’s official score for Voice of War is 7/10.
‘…the only song people will remember is the other song, the sistersong, with its easy rhyme and grisly story that ends in blood.’
Lucy Holland’s Sistersong first appeared on my radar when I came across the cover while scrolling through book twitter. I was absolutely blown away by how stunning it looked and jumped over to Amazon and Goodreads to find out more. The blurb hooked me. Ancient Britain. Magic. Saxons. Sign me up! Then I read that it was a retelling of the tale of The Twa Sisters. I had heard of that name before, but could not for the life of me remember where. However, I chose not to google it as I wanted to go into Holland’s version of the tale blind and enjoy it for what it was without any spoilers. And enjoyed it I did, for what I found was not just magic and Saxons, but a heart-breaking tale of family, loyalty and identity.