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Thursday, June 22, 2017

RE-REVIEW: The Heresy Within by Rob J. Hayes (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rob J. Hayes was born and brought up in Basingstoke, UK. As a child he was fascinated with Lego, Star Wars and Transformers that fueled his imagination and he spent quite a bit of his growing up years playing around with such. He began writing at the age of fourteen however soon discovered the fallacies of his work. After four years at University studying Zoology and three years working for a string of high street banks as a desk jockey/keyboard monkey Rob lived on a desert island in Fiji for three months. It was there he re-discovered his love of writing and, more specifically, of writing fantasy.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: As any warrior will tell you; even the best swordsman is one bad day away from a corpse. It's a lesson Blademaster Jezzet Vel'urn isn't keen to learn. Chased into the Wilds by a vengeful warlord, Jezzet makes it to the free city of Chade. But instead of sanctuary all she finds is more enemies from her past.

Arbiter Thanquil Darkheart is a witch hunter for the Inquisition on a holy crusade to rid the world of heresy. He's also something else; expendable. When the God Emperor himself gives Thanquil an impossible task, he knows he has no choice but to venture deep into the Wilds to hunt down a fallen Arbiter.

The Black Thorn is a cheat, a thief, a murderer and worse. He's best known for the killing of several Arbiters and every town in the Wilds has a WANTED poster with his name on it. Thorn knows it's often best to lie low and let the dust settle, but some jobs pay too well to pass up.

As their fates converge, Jezzet, Thanquil, and the Black Thorn will need to forge an uneasy alliance in order to face their common enemy.

FORMAT/INFO: The Heresy Within is divided into four sections with sixty POV chapters. The narration is in third person via Thanquil Darkheart, Jezzet Vel’urn and Betrim Thorn aka The Black Thorn. This is the first book of the Ties That Bind trilogy.

June 21, 2017 marks the worldwide e-book re-release of The Heresy Within and it was self-published by the author. Cover art is by Sigbjorn Pedersen, cover design was by Shawn King.

CLASSIFICATION: The Heresy Within is a dark fantasy debut with terrific characterization and a twisted plotline that is very reminiscent of the works by Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence and Scott Lynch.

ANALYSIS: This book was originally self-published by the author in 2013 and it completely blew my mind. When I first read it, I had no clue about this book but the blurb suggested a dark story and the excerpt that I read had me salivating as soon as I finished it. The story safe to say was far from a disappointment. This book has been re-released by the author after he got his rights back from Ragnarok Publications and readers can read more about that in this interview and over on the author's site. I'm reposting my review with a few edits and to espouse the new(ish) cover and re-release of the entire trilogy.

The story begins with Arbiter Thanquil Darkheart who is a member of the Inquisition that seeks to root out demons and those who practice the dark arts in the lands in and around the holy city of Sarth. They are an organization who based on the teachings of Volmar, and have dedicated their lives trying to burn heretics and forever stamp out the dark arts. Such dedication has given them the street title of “witch hunters” and it’s one that is actively discouraged as well. Thanquil however is not a typical arbiter and is just returning from a distant mission before he gets shanghaied into an even more dangerous one. 

Jezzet Vel’urn is a blademaster, she’s also a person who thinks more of day-to-day survival than anything else. Her troubles stem from a past friendship gone sour and before long she has to decide whether she will “fight or fuck her way” out of the troubles heading her way. Lastly there’s Betrim the Black Thorn, mercenary, rogue and all round deadly murderer. His name echoes throughout the wilds as a name to be feared. Having lost a few digits on his hands and feet have made the Black Thorn extremely cautious in trusting folk even those among his crew but come long he will have to decide whether he wants to remembered as just a vile mercenary or something more.

That’s the basic gist of all the POV characters however there are other characters as well and all of them crazier and scarier than these POV ones. If I had to pinpoint the one single strength of this book, I would say it’s the characterization. Very few authors manage to write such terrific characters in their debut, only a few such as Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie and Anthony Ryan come to mind but now I believe we have another addition to this list. Rob J. Hayes who has written about lowlifes and scoundrels but writes with such wonderful application that these very characters seem fascinating gems and before long have you hooked onto their antics. This is the best part of the story, and very reminiscent of Blake Crouch and J. A. Konrath’s serial killer thrillers wherein they explored the darker side of human depravity and power. 

Similarly the author herein focuses on people who frankly would be villains in most fantasy books however gives them three dimensional personas for the readers to enjoy reading about. Betrim, Thanquil and Jezzet are the main characters and they shine brightly through their chapters but it's also the side character cast such as Henry, Bones, Swift, etc that make the story so much more intriguing. The POV characters Thanquil, Jezzet and Betrim are all psychologically broken people however the way they cope with their problems is fascinating to read. Plus amid all the savagery, their semi-honorable actions seem even brighter as compared to the muck around them. Sure enough some of them are still reprobates, act crazy, commit violence in a wild manner upon each other and normal folk, however many of them become so interesting that the readers will be forced to turn the pages to get to know them better as well as their sides of the story. This was what I loved so much about this debut, the terrific characterization, the unpredictable plot-line with all the action and bleakness.

There are plot twists galore as the story hardly moves in the direction that the readers would expect and in the end the author makes sure that the rules of the world are obeyed in the sense that no character is truly safe. The author also subverts several fantasy tropes by not following conventional storylines Case in point the God Emperor of Sarth was a farm boy who was revealed to be a human incarnation of Volmar. However the author doesn't focus on this and mentions it and moves on to the juicy parts.  There are quite a few deaths and so I would recommend that readers not read the blurb of the sequel books so as to not spoil their reads. The ending is very Abercrombie-esque wherein situations are resolved but the characters are put through a psychological and physical grinder of sorts. All in all this is a kind of debut that you definitely don’t want to miss because as soon as you finish this book, you’ll want to start the next one and then the one after that. The nice news is that both the sequels are already out and therefore ready to be devoured. Lastly the cover art is also very apt and details a particularly fascinating scene from the book itself.

Now moving onto the parts of the book that seem to be a bit deficient, namely the worldbuilding front. Sure enough there is enough history and geography provided to make it seem three dimensional but because the story focuses so much on characters and action, some readers who might want to know more of the surrounding world might not be satisfied. This book is without a map and so for cartophiles (like me) it’s a bit of a negative. However the author has posted a world map on his website for those interested Lastly those who don’t like dark fantasy or grey characters please, please avoid this book at all costs as you definitely will not be able to stomach it for all its brutality, gore and graphic nature. There's also quite a few situations and characters that come on to the main stage without any explanation and so I hope their status and back-stories will be explained in the succeeding volumes.

CONCLUSION: The Heresy Within is an amazingly dark debut and like 2012’s Blood Song is an absolute gem. If you like Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch or Mark Lawrence, make sure this is your next book. If you want a dark journey filled with action, betrayals and truly magnificent bastards of characters then The Heresy Within is the book that you should seek. DO NOT MISS IT!


CTPhipps said...

I love this series and I appreciate all the attention you've given it! Thanks for doing these reviews.


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