Taking inspiration from the Demon Souls series and other, similar video games, Nathan Hall, deftly intertwines the mechanics and the ambiance of these games into the fabric of the novel itself. Our hero is a Lance, the chosen warrior of the Church of the Chained God. With his holy regalia—Sword, Book, and Flask— he sets out to free the haunted land from the grips of madness. Dispatched to a small village, he discovers a tableau of human sacrifice and buildings burning in the night. The hamlet’s inhabitants have cracked under the weight of the horror, neighbors and friends turning viciously on one another. It’s up to the Lance to unravel the convoluted truth and find a path through this insanity to the horror on the village green. Only by striking the core of this terror can he free the village from a time loop in which they replay their descent into pandemonium over and over.
What sets this apart from other horror inspired fantasy are the mechanics which echo video game functions. If the hero is killed, he is reborn from an anchor, basically a spawn point. He also witnesses “cut scenes” the lives of other Lances as they too have battled Horrors. He can retry his attempt at traversing the village over and over again, just like a video game, the only catch…with each iteration the trauma he has witnessed and suffered infuses him with a little more madness. Eventually it will overwhelm him and he too will be caught in this endless loop of suffering.
High marks for world building. Despite borrowing from video games for inspiration, the narrative never felt corny or juvenile. The story is very well written and the prose are strong. There were a few times when quasi-poetic language sounded beautiful but didn’t quite express a tangible scene as well as might be hoped. In general, this was pretty minor and occurred infrequently, but there was one interlude passage that left me pretty confused for about five page before the concrete details solidified enough for me to get a good grasp of what was happening. There was illusion involved and the subject of the passage was also confused too, so I understand what the author was going for, but it still pushed me out of the narrative for a bit.
The author did an excellent job maintaining the tone of this novel. The world is really cool and really dark. It was very compelling and the author’s commitment to his vision never wavered. I loved the monsters in this story. I loved the slow reveal of the chaos that had unfolded prior to the Lance’s arrival. I loved the time jumps and the visions of other Lance’s battles against other horrors. This was a unique book. Anyone who enjoys novels with mind-bending elements and dark themes should check it out.