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Tuesday, December 15, 2020

SPFBO Finalist: Shadow of a Dead God by Patrick Samphire review

 


Order A Shadow of a Dead God over here


Author info: Patrick Samphire started writing when he was fourteen years old and thought it would be a good way of getting out of English lessons. It didn’t work, but he kept on writing anyway.

He has lived in Zambia, Guyana, Austria and England. He has been charged at by a buffalo and, once, when he sat on a camel, he cried. He was only a kid. Don’t make this weird.

Patrick has worked as a teacher, an editor and publisher of physics journals, a marketing minion, and a pen pusher (real job!). Now, when he’s not writing, he designs websites and book covers. He has a PhD in theoretical physics, which means that all the unlikely science in his books is actually true. Well, most of it. Well, some of it. Maybe.

Patrick now lives in Wales, U.K. with his wife, the awesome writer Stephanie Burgis, their two sons, and their cat, Pebbles. Right now, in Wales, it is almost certainly raining.

Format: Self-published by the author on May 27, 2020, SoaDG counts 464 pages and is the first book in the Mennik Thorn series. Cover art and design by Patrick Samphire.

ADAM

Nik and Benny, freelance mage and boorish thief, find themselves in hot water being framed for murder while stealing an item from a wealthy crime lord. Nik narrates the tale with a healthy dose of snark, and the stakes kicked off on a high note. Unfortunately, beyond the thrilling start, the book started to lose me in the second act. 

While I found the opening of the story intriguing, the structure of the story began to feel repetitive, and the plot began to drag. Each scene felt like Nik was being led from one conversation to the next while sharing pages of his inner monologue on his cross-town walks from point A to point B. Often times those expository monologues lasted longer than the actual goings-on in the story while being treated to Nik’s thoughts running circles around itself. 

There’s also an 11-year old character who is somehow a murderous psychopath that I think was to come off as… endearing? Nik is partly responsible for babysitting her, but after she slices him in jest (?), he thinks she can fend for herself for a while. It seems like she comes and goes whenever Nik needs a bit of backup. I had a hard time accepting this character into the fold. It felt like she was the comic relief to the story and it didn’t work for me.

One of the aspects of the story I enjoyed the most was how there was a certain detective noir feel to the book; a cynic skulking his way through the criminal underground, chasing leads on solving a murder before time runs out. But overall, even though it had some compelling early mystery and intrigue, this book was not one of my favorites from the competition.

ŁUKASZ

Mennick Thorn, a freelance magician, lives a miserable life and barely makes the ends meet. He knows magic, but he lacks the skills and charisma to make it big. Most people hate him. Actually, he sometimes hates himself, too. 

The story opens with a failed job and turns into a murder mystery with high, personal, stakes. I like personal stakes in fiction. Much more than epic ones. Nik works under time pressure to solve the mystery, save his only friend, and survive murder-ghosts. 

I liked Nik and his narration. He’s slightly unreliable and keeps vital information for himself, but I didn’t mind. It created tension. He knows he lacks talent and his lack of self-assurance, bordering on anxiety, will make him sympathetic to many readers. Not to me, though. I prefer protagonists with more skill, more cunning, and more agenda. And Nik has no agenda. When the situation requires it, he acts and proves resourceful but, overall, he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. He’s a good friend and uncle, though. 

Instead of wasting time on exposition, we jump head-first into the action. Swift pacing kept me racing through the pages to see what was gonna happen. Happily, the pacing varies. Samphire balanced action scenes with more reflective, internal moments focused on relationship details, Nik’s thoughts and memories, and unobtrusive world-building. 

The urban setting makes the story easy to follow and focused. The coastal city of Agatos feels nicely sketched and has an interesting history. Another world-building detail that impressed me was the source of magic in the world - it comes from decomposing corpses of gods. Bloody cool.

I do have some gripes with the book, however. The blend of tones and themes doesn’t always work; the comic elements undermine serious points, and the darker moments give a bitter aftertaste. Nik’s constant self-deprecation tired me and made it difficult to root for him. Frankly, he reminded me of Harry Dresden from Storm Front. A tall, wise-cracking screw-up solving mystery and failing at turning cynical. A nice bloke, with the heart in the right place, just not too inspiring. While something is happening all the time, not everything moves the plot forward; We get A LOT of Nik going here and there and while he's fun not all his actions lead to anything, really.

There’s also Sereh - Benny’s eleven-year-old daughter everyone’s terrified of. I hope there’s more to her story cause right now it feels awkward when adult and battle-hardened characters fear her. Perhaps I’m just not a fan of badass children? 

SoaDG is a great first book for what I hope to be a long-running series. All of the pieces are there for an immersive story about magic, power, and friendship. It may have shortcomings, but it succeeds where many fail - it’s genuinely entertaining. I had great fun reading it. 


MIHIR

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Shadow Of A Dead God is Patrick Semphire’s adult fantasy debut and one that came with high praise. Considering how urban fantasy oriented it was and how much I love that genre. This was a perfect reading scenario for me.

Shadow Of A  Dead God is expertly narrated and commandeered by Mennik “Nik” Thorn, a mage of the city of Agatos. Nik comes from humble beginnings and has had to make some difficult choices which land him in a rather miserly state. We start the story with him taking some penny ante jobs trying to make a semblance of a living. Benny, his best and only childhood friend approaches him with a “foolproof” plan (key emphasis on fool). Nik is forced into a corner due to his loyalty towards his slimy & pilfering buddy and agrees to a mission to acquire a simple ledger. How that simple thieving quest explodes largely in both their faces is mentioned in the blurb and that’s where the plot truly begins.

First things first, this story while being a secondary fantasy is honestly an urban fantasy story transplanted on to a secondary fantasy world. Case in point:

-      - We have our funny & plucky protagonist who is going against incredible odds and powerful, unknown enemies

-        He wisecracks throughout the story

-     - The secondary cast of characters is an intriguing one as we have the thieving scoundrel of a friend, his scary & lethal young daughter, the honourable captain of the Ash Guard with whom there’s a spark.

-      - The pace of the story which is relentless

All these attributes are the hallmarks of a good urban fantasy world and it’s to Patrick’s credit that he effortlessly recreates this set up in this intriguing fantasy world. Beginning with Nik, we are pulled into his slightly acerbic and funny way of looking at his circumstances. Consider the following:

I was a grown man, damn it, and a mage of Agatos. Armies fled before me. Demons quaked in fear. Small animals gave me a wide berth. Babies cried when I smiled at them

Nik says this while being mightily scared of Sereh.  As she again surprises him with her deadly skills and knife. This and similar such humour is well versed within the story which makes it a fun and engaging one.

Overall the main plot is a mystery as Nik races to find out who fingered him and Benny for the murder. Add to this mix is the presence of three high mages who are essential for the running of the city while also keeping power struggles from dissolving into utter chaos. To add to that, there’s the presence of dead or absent gods whose powers are still active within locations, objects or even artifacts from their own body (case in point the Ash Guard who smear the ash of from the body of the dead god Sharshak and that helps in nullifying all types of godly magic).  You can imagine the powder keg that is waiting to erupt all with Nik’s name tied up to it.

All of this is wonderfully encased within a 105K story that kept me flipping pages all throughout. But then my score doesn’t quite reflect my exuberance and the biggest stumbling block for that is the world scenario. What I specifically mean is that in an urban fantasy scenario, the author doesn’t have to do too much on the worldbuilding front. The readers know the city or can google and see for themselves. Here the author has a tricky scenario, he does his best to describe the city of Agatos and it partially helps but a lot of the world scenario is left up in the air. Since this is only the first volume, this isn’t such a big deal. However since I’m reviewing this as a singular volume and a SPFBO finalist. I found the worldbuilding scenario to be the weakest component of the story. Followed by the fact that this story is singularly narrated, it robs the readers of proper characterizations from the POV of fascinating characters like Meroi and Kira (not to mention Sereh). Again this is a very personal thing, so take it with a dollop of salt.

CONCLUSION: Shadow Of  A Dead God introduces an intriguing story and series, I’ll be quite excited to pick up the next book as this one ended on a tantalizing note. Plus I’m hoping the author improves on what I found to be deficiencies within this volume. I trust Patrick Semphire has some surprises in store and I’ll be among the first to read them.


OFFICIAL SPFBO RATING



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