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Thursday, October 31, 2019

Solace Lost by Michael Sliter (Reviewed by Justine Bergman)




AUTHOR INFORMATION: Michael Sliter was born in the deep wilds of Cleveland, Ohio, where he fought off at least two siblings for scraps of pizza. His bedroom, growing up, was a monument to fantasy, containing a stack of worn and well-read books, a medieval Lego civilization spanning half the room, and a very real sword circa World War II.

Though always fascinated with the written word, Michael ended up with only a minor in writing, instead majoring in Psychology (Hiram College, OH). He later went on to complete his M.S. and Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology (Bowling Green State University, OH)—overall spending a larger portion of his life than strictly necessary in school. Following, Michael was a psych professor for a time, and then moved into the real world to help organizations hire the right people.

He attempted to write some childish fantasy novels in the past, all abandoned as derivative refuse. It wasn’t until his daughter was born that he decided to begin writing in earnest. The outcome is the Pandemonium Rising series, currently 50% complete with Solace Lost and Wisdom Lost having been published. It explores complex psychological themes of isolation, coping with trauma, faith, warfare, prejudice, magic, explosions, and fantastical violence. Also more magic, plus a couple more explosions.

Today, you can find Michael back in the Cleveland area, where he lives with his wife, daughter, and chiweenie. They are quite tolerant of his writing, reading, video game, and racquetball habits.

FORMAT/INFO: Solace Lost is 559 pages long, divided over 39 chapters and an epilogue. It is the first entry in the Pandemonium Rising series. The book is currently available in ebook and paperback formats, as well as on Kindle Unlimited. It was self-published by the author on April 10, 2018. Cover art by René Aigner. Cover design and maps done by David O'Meara.

CLASSIFICATION: Epic Fantasy, Grimdark Fantasy

ANALYSIS: Ardia is on the brink of war. A tyrant, a mystery, and an enigma seek to bring the populace to its knees in submission, while horrors driven by hunger and rage are to be unleashed to drench the land in blood. The lives of four individuals are entwined, their sole purpose is to stop the vileness from prevailing, but the world is set on trying them every step of the way. Where magic and savagery prevails, will they be able to hold back the tide of destruction, or will their country be ultimately consumed by darkness?

Solace Lost is the the first installment in Michael Sliter’s Pandemonium Rising series, and is a merciless and devastating character-centric grimdark novel defined by its brutality and tone of utter desperation. At its heart, beneath the blood and gore, it's a tale of strength and holding onto faith when all hope is lost. It's about finding your rightful place, despite the hostilities of the world, or the all-powerful urges to conform. While this is a story of war, it’s also a true examination into one angle of the age-old psychological debate of nature versus nurture; everyone is born with the predisposition to good and the propensity to evil, and they are a product of their environment. I’ll be completely honest with you, there surely is no rest for the wicked in Sliter’s debut, as heinous atrocities gloriously seep from almost every single page, and the world we're delivered to aptly reflects this.

This is a story that focuses most on its characters and their development in response to the bleak environment they’re subjected to. Presented with four points of view of highly diverse backgrounds – namely those of Fenrir Coldbreaker, Emma Dran, Hafgan Iwan, and Merigold Hinter – each chapter follows one certain character, and also expresses a subtly distinct tone. It isn’t difficult to decipher whose eyes we’re peering through due to this well-executed mechanism. As the story progresses, and they’re each exposed to the savagery mankind is capable of, we begin to see the evolution of the characters’ mindsets as tones begin to shift. Once proud, now apathetic. Once broken, now steadfast. Once callous, now righteous. Once innocent, now corrupted. I thought this gradual deviation was a brilliant way to showcase advancement without forcing us to make judgements based on their actions alone.

In addition to carefully crafted characters, the worldbuilding is where Sliter truly shines. Ardia is a land rich in deep, complex history, and full of many different walks of sentient life, all struggling to coexist. The detailed lore and religious foundations, both explained in short insights peppered throughout, also serve as driving forces for events in this story. We’re initially introduced to slight instances of magic, one that continues to grow and become more interesting and destructive as the chapters progress. Vividly described environments and systematic social structures strongly draw you into this fleshed out world dominated by violence and bloodshed. I will admit that at times I felt like I was being presented with too much information that seemingly had no effect on the story at hand, but as this is the first book in an epic fantasy series, an ample amount of details is expected to set up the rest of the slated tetralogy.

Sliter tells this tale with simple, straightforward prose, overflowing with cringe-worthy, lucid details that managed to make even me uncomfortable at times (this is a feat in itself). His ability to evoke emotional feedback is outstanding, touching upon some genuinely shocking topics, taking those grimdark tropes we all know and love, and cranking up the volume to max. As with many stories in this particular genre, mostly everyone and everything falls into a morally gray area, concrete heroes are nowhere to be found, but villains are immensely villainous. My only bits of criticism for the entirety of the book would be pointed towards several parts of the narrative suffering from slow pacing, and I also found myself looking forward to chapters pertaining to certain characters rather than the others.

Solace Lost is a solid debut and treat for fans of (extremely) dark and grimdark fantasy. Regardless of its slow pacing, the underlying plot is highly intriguing, keeping the pages turning just to discover what happens next. Fair warning, this book contains several events that may be difficult to read, including rape and torture, but I thought they were successfully used as vehicles for both plot and character development as the story continued. We're left at a point where the fate of all hangs in the balance with lots of 'what-if's and 'WHAT?!'s – that epilogue blew my mind...it's imperative I continue with Wisdom Lost, book two of Pandemonium Rising, to see the consequences of that little morsel of deviousness! If you're on the hunt for a read involving the bloody politics of war, some beautifully constructed characters, and a highly detailed world, then I recommend giving this one a shot.

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