The Master Of Sorrows: Book One of The Silent Gods by Justin Call

The Master Of Sorrows is a strong debut of High Fantasy, with lots of attention given equally to world building, moral and ethical issues and action sequences. I’ll be interested to see where this goes in subsequent books.

The monastery-like Academy which acts more as a Lord’s Manor Castle and surrounding serving village of Chaenbalu evokes a quasi Medieval Assassins Guild feeling.

The Academy claims to take in orphans, the unwanted ones and train them for greatness, girls becoming witwomen and boys becoming Avatars of Judgement then Masters of different Disciplines and those who fail becoming servants and stewards. Avatars and Masters are the only ones permitted to leave the boundaries of Chaenbalu and only to retrieve the artefacts of Magic and to kill its users which are seen as evil agents of a god called Keos.

Within their society anyone with any disability, disfigurement or permanent injury including scars are seen as chosen by Keos and are if scarred are castigated and if born that way or anyone suspected of being a follower of Keos are put to death.

When a young baby is born with a partially formed left arm his mother is murdered, his father stoned to death and it is ordered to leave him in the woods to be taken by the creatures. Mysterious priest Sodar cannot let this child die.

17 years later Annev is struggling with the realisation that if he doesn’t win an upcoming task he will be a steward for the rest of his life, seen as lower status, not allowed to leave the village and more importantly not allowed to marry the girl of his dreams who happens to be the Headmaster’s daughter.

However he is torn between his heart and his head as he doesn’t want to trample on others’ dreams and achievements to promote himself; in a Machiavellian environment he’s a Musketeer. This habit of questioning the methods and even the beliefs of the Academy has got him into constant trouble, but what will get him into more trouble is if they realise that he is wearing an enchanted arm…

...this curse… was the reason his friend, peers and teachers would unquestionably stone him to death…the chance for catastrophe was always there, a looming threat.

Annev is a complex character. On the one hand he is a typical teenager, dreaming of independence and proving his worth and he’s got an all encompassing crush on Myjun which messes constantly with his judgement and his thoughtfulness is a lovely recognition that masculinity doesn’t have to equal machismo, but being kind and thoughtful doesn’t mean you are physically weak. On the other hand (ha! Pun not intended!) the narrative and the pseudo religious extracts and prophecies that pepper the text point towards Annev being an agent of evil, a son of Keos and his mastery of magic and his questioning of the philosophy of the Academy which worships a rival deity seems to align him as a destructive force. However as we begin to unravel the novel we begin to see inconsistencies in the Academy’s piety especially from a post-modern mindset; the damnation of disability or disfigurement whether genetic or accident is abhorrent to modern minds; the individual versus community survival is a debate that rages on even today though most would agree the kindest, more ethical and long term successful behaviour would be for the survival of the group which is demonised here as Annev’s weakness; and the attitude to magic is interesting that the Academy deems itself the judge, jury and executioner of worthiness to hold a magical artefact and the old ‘who guards the guards’ debate rears at the existence of a vault of hoarded magic.

It’s hard not to root for a boy who believes in fair play, not lowering your morals to achieve gains and that it is the content of your character not your past or rank that matters. And yet he is supposed to be a vessel for the god who wants to bring about the End of Days. Something just doesn’t add up right? Either I’m too ‘modern’ and will be heartbroken or there’s a massive twist coming up in the style of Adam in Good Omens *fingers crossed.

Narrative wise this was a book that worried me at first. There were a lot of fanciful odd names which makes me flash back to my teens and continuously trying to read high fantasy that I did not finish because I got annoyed at the consistent clumping of consonants or with different vowels in regular names to make it sound fantastical. However Master Of Sorrows wasn’t as elaborate as those, but the unfamiliar words and longer vocabulary slowed my reading speed down remarkably compared to my usual reading. But that’s just me and it’s probably a good thing!

However, thanks to a good narrative pace and relatively short chapters I was invested in the plot and protagonist early on which drove me to keep on reading despite my own slower pace. The action sequences are particularly well done with heart in your mouth challenges and at one point I was shouting at the book what the boys had to do as if it were the telly- always the sign of a good book for me.

This really is a series I can get behind, I hope for Annev despite the prophecies and I hope for those who have made it through the events with him. I will be looking towards the next one eagerly.

Master of Shadows by Justin T Call is published by Gollancz and available online and from bookshops now.

I received this book for free as part of a review scheme with no obligation or fee.

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