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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Steel Discord by Ryan Howse (reviewed by Justine Bergman)


Official Author Website
Order The Steel Discord over HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Ryan Howse is the author of The Steel Discord and The Alchemy Dirge. He lives in Regina, Canada, with his wife, cats, and children. You can find him online at twitter.com/RyanHowse.

OFFICIAL BLURB: Zarachius Skie is presumed dead.

His mentor, the Arcanist Mordekai Gethsemane, had been arrested for conspiracy to commit regicide. Zarachius knew it was false. He did what had to, and snuck onto a military train to break Mordekai out.

But now, the Ancien Legion, vengeful anarchists, and Mordekai's old co-conspirators are doing whatever it takes to bring Zarachius out of hiding. They need to know what he knows.

They need to know the secret he uncovered on that train.

FORMAT/INFO: The Steel Discord is 441 pages long divided over ten chapters and an interlude, and is the first entry in the A Concerto For The End of Days series. The book is currently available in e-book and paperback format. It was published by Everard Books on December 5, 2018. Cover photo by Timothy Brennan, cover design by Brian Krespan of Krespan Designs.

CLASSIFICATION: Fantasy

ANALYSIS:
Zarachius Skie was dead. Time to forge another identity from the flames.
Arcanist Zarachius Skie has one goal: to free his master from the confines of a train headed towards the empire's most notorious prison. However, what starts as a rescue mission quickly turns into the unraveling of a plot that threatens the very fabric of society, leaving him vulnerable to powerful adversaries who desire nothing more than to know what he knows. What better way to take your secrets to the grave than to fake your own death? The only problem with secrets - they're bound to catch up with you sooner or later.

The Steel Discord is quite a unique and absorbing story of political machinations, betrayal, and fighting against the tide of fate. With a strong focus on the very human belief of knowing all the answers, only for that belief to be inevitably shattered by the realization that there is always more to learn, it's a testament to the old adage ‘nothing is as it seems'. Filled to the brim with planning, scheming, and acting, all in the name of the greater good, it remains unclear who or what is truly acting on behalf of those in Mordant and its surrounding nations. While it's definitely an action-packed heist story, at its heart, it's a tale of kith and kin, the sacrifices made for the ones you hold dearest in your heart, and finding that beacon of hope when adrift in a lonely and tempestuous sea.

I knew as soon as I cracked open this book I was going to fall in love with the characters Howse has crafted and given voice to. Always a fan of the odd couple trope, I was thrilled to see the author perfectly embody this with Zarachius Skie and Kyran D'Allaire, the 'lanky Arcanist and the large brawler', through tons of love and brotherly banter. Between Zarachius' constant curiosity of the unknown, and need to be involved and/or be the hero, and Kyran's 'I don't give a damn, but I'll bash some skulls' disposition, these two beautifully balance each other, creating an amazing dynamic that oftentimes leads them into dangerous, yet amusing situations. In addition to the boys, their mentor/guardian Mordekai Gethsemane, master occultist, is as complex as they come. I'll admit I had a love-hate relationship with him throughout the entire story, and couldn't for the life of me figure out his endgame until it was too late. And last but certainly not least, Nicola Maronovich, the mysteriously exotic rogue, with a shadowed history and clear intentions drew me in right from the start.
"Did those scars erase you? Or did they change you, make you better? Perhaps the symbol isn't one of separation from who you are, but one that ties you to a greater lineage?"
We're dropped into a French-inspired nation during an era resembling our own Industrial Revolution, where there's no shortage of technological advancements, but always with a fantastical twist. Steel trains surge across the land, while zeppelins dominate the sky. Industrious cities belch acrid smoke into the air, and forests wane as man and the like stretch their fingers farther into the unknown. Humans are not the only intelligent, sentient beings within society; we witness familiar faces pulled from mythology, as well as others that are specific to this world, most of which have been specifically bred for battle. The empire, led by a loathed and undesirable ruler, survives solely on the the feats of Arcanum, and corruption is more widespread than anyone would like to believe, all of which have led to a seemingly never-ending state of war. We spend time in floating cities, sprinting through dark forests, and barreling down train tracks at breakneck speeds. But it's important to always keep in mind: there's always more than meets the eye.

Of all the things I found most compelling in this book, its magic system is definitely towards the top of the list, simply because it's not only the literal backbone for this entire story, but also one of the most interesting and intricately designed systems I've recently encountered. Through the use of runes and incantations which open portals to the aether, an alternate 'universe', Arcanists summon caitiffs, or spirits, which are then bound to complete a variety of tasks, most of which are rudimentary to the upkeep of modern society. For instance, undines (water spirits) and ignans (fire spirits) are summoned and forced to interact to create steam to power the engines of the different types of transportation. This whole process plays a crucial role as the story continues, and takes some interesting twists and turns, which I hope are examined further in future installments of this series.

This was my introduction to the writings of Ryan Howse, and it certainly won't be the last time I dive into his work. With straightforward prose, an excellent balance of building and action, and some truly nail-biting moments, I blew through this one pretty quickly and thoroughly enjoyed it. We're left with the fates of several of the characters remaining unknown, so I'm hoping this isn't the last we see of Zarachius and Kyran. If you're looking for a little bit of adventure, with some snarky, yet warmhearted characters, and an interesting world filled with surprises, The Steel Discord ticks all these checkboxes. I'm looking forward to more within the A Concerto For The End of Days series.

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