Master of Sorrows (The Silent Gods #1)
by Justin Call
Expected publication date February 25, 2020, by Blackstone Publishing
The ‘Chosen One’ trope has long been a staple of the fantasy genre. One person, usually someone from a lowly background (the farmboy, the scrappy street urchin), discovers they have some strange power which gives them the singular ability to defeat the Dark Lord who seeks to rule or destroy the world. Thus the Chosen One must embark on a quest to keep evil from overcoming everything. In his debut novel, Master of Sorrows, Justin T. Call seeks to upend this trope to see what would happen if the Chosen One ended up becoming the dark lord.
The story opens with the birth of a child with a physical deformity that is seen as an omen of evil by his people. A renegade priest saves the baby, Annev, from being killed outright and raises him in a hidden town that serves the Academy of Chaenbalu, a school that teaches young men the skills they need to go out in the world and steal the remaining magical artifacts and bring them back to the Academy where they will be kept from the world so as not to be misused. On the eve of the final test that will determine the course of his life, Annev discovers a series of harsh truths about himself and his world. He must find a way to adhere to the requirements of his teachers while simultaneously following his own path– a path at odds with everything he’s been taught.
The result is, at best, a mixed bag. While Call is undoubtedly passionate about the details of the story, those same details often turn the tale into a tedious trudge through half a book’s worth of the schoolyard antics of a group of teenaged boys. Long passages of dialogue are used for worldbuilding, which both over- and underexplains the world, its gods, and its magic:
“‘We also remember how Odar made the Oracle, a being of pure quire; how Lumea made the sprites, being of pure lumen; and how Keos make Fyoldar, an abomination of pure t’rasang that preyed upon Odar and Lumea’s worshippers for four hundred years. The Book of Odar calls this dark time the Fall of Keos, which only ended with the Breaking of the Hand of Keos.'”
It’s one thing to develop a complex world of gods and magic. It’s quite another to efficiently explain everything in a way that doesn’t make the reader’s eyes glaze over. After half a dozen similar, info-dumping conversations, it’s as difficult to maintain interest in the story– which isn’t moved forward by these conversations– as it is to stay engrossed in a lecture delivered in a monotone.
The prose, too, works against the story with its workaday presentation that can, at best, be described as grammatically correct. The differences between character voices are few and far between, making it difficult to differentiate one character from another in conversations lacking dialogue tags. And all throughout the book, the prose tells more than it shows, a move that creates distance between the reader and the story.
“As Annev stared at the place that would be his new home, he found he had mixed feelings about reporting to Tosan. For one thing, he was mentally and physically exhausted; the strange events of the past day and night had taken its toll in more ways than one, and the long run back home had drained him.”
That’s not to say that there are no redeeming qualities to this story. Annev is a charismatic protagonist who seeks to do the right thing, even when that is the opposite of what the teachers at his school have told him to do. Annev has a dire secret to keep, a girl he loves, friends and a mentor he cares about, and a conscience. These are all things that make for a compelling character. Unfortunately, the rest of the story’s elements let the character down. One can hope that major plot holes might be filled in in later installments, but tedious worldbuilding and dull writing make for a frustrating reading experience. In the end, Master of Sorrows is master of nothing at all.
Thank you to NetGalley and Blackstone Publishing for giving me a free egalley in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion.