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Thursday, January 28, 2021

SPFFBO Finalist: Voice of War by Zack Argyle review

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AUTHOR INFORMATION: Zack Argyle was raised with a wonderful family motto: don't let the truth get in the way of a good story. He's loved fiction ever since. He spends his days writing code and his nights writing epic stories about family, love, loss, friendship, and pain all intermixed with a heavy dose of the fantastical.

FORMAT/INFO: Self-published by the author in 2020, Voice of War is available in ebook, paperback, and audiobook (narrated by Adam Gold) formats. The book is 380 pages long. Cover illustration by Ömer Burak Önal. Cover design by Zack Argyle.


The magic system in this story pulled (heh) elements from Brandon Sanderson's 'Mistborn' and Melissa McPhail's 'A Pattern of Shadow and Light' while still creating something new and interesting: an energy core exists in all humans, but only a select few can tap into it and manipulate the 'threads' of its existence. These threadweavers are a powerful bunch, and the greatest weavers are employed in the highest military roles of the kingdom. Well, the known kingdom, as there's another hidden kingdom in the nearby forest, with its own history and secrets and an ultracool location.

One of our main POVs originate from the kingdom capital city. Chrys is a threadweaving general who attained rank at early age and is scorned by his elders for it. While his battlefield prowess against invading forces has earned him this rank, he is haunted by an internal voice.. OF WAR... (ok, now I get it)... that is eager to take over Chrys' consciousness and wreak hell.

Laurel hails from the forest kingdom, a young messenger girl who is sick of tradition and eager to carve her way in the world. Her latest trip into town lands her in a bloodbath of trouble, and she crosses paths with some other major players that will shake up what's been held sacred for centuries. Oozing snark and gusto on the exterior but fighting loneliness and depression on the inside, she became my favorite character to follow. 

The third MC, Alvarex, enters the book so late in the game, it felt like an odd choice considering how pivotal a role he plays. I found myself wishing we had met him earlier on and spent a bit more time with him throughout the story, though I can see why the author chose to wait due to the surprising nature of his character. Still, it was a bit jarring to suddenly be yanked into a new, unrelated story thread so deep into the book. It all... wove (ugh, sorry) together in the end, but the execution could have been less clunky.

Voice of War was engaging and it was a pretty fast read. There are some interesting wrinkles in the story, such as how someone leans on threadweaving like an opiate addiction, and how there is a heavy emphasis on a strong, united, and supportive family unit. But there are also a couple of instances where I felt that there were missed opportunities and out-of-character decisions that brought me out of the story. A couple of "how come they...?" and "well why didn't he just...?" popped up a few times. But overall, this is a good start to a trilogy with strong world-building and a tantalizing finale. Argyle has left enough clues throughout the story to let the reader know that he has a grand plan for it all, so I'm interested in seeing what he has in store for us in the sequel. 


Voice of War does most of the things right and keeps the stakes high throughout the narrative. Magic users, known as Threadweavers, disappear. Chrys Valerian tries to uncover the truth behind it, and he doesn’t like the answers he gets. Not only does he have to fight for the safety of his family, but he also has to deal with his inner demons. Add a disturbing prophecy about his child to the mix, and you'll understand his tense mental state.

The story follows three POV characters. The author adds one of them later in the story, and I’m not sure if it works well. Happily, Chrys, with his distinct voice, fast-paced and exciting arc, makes up for it. The second one, Laurel, didn’t win me over. I can’t say I’m a fan of feisty sixteen-year-old girls. Those who are, though, will easily relate to her.

Fans of cool magic systems will find plenty to enjoy here - Threadwavers can push or pull on threads of light associated with people and objects, and the extent of their abilities depends on the color of their eyes. The system feels consistent, exciting, and well thought out.

Argyle uses simple, streamlined prose that’s easy to follow and invisible most of the time. He doesn’t try to impress readers with stylistic skill; he has the story to tell and tells it using simple (but not simplistic) language.

While VoW doesn’t break new ground, it's enjoyable throughout. Also, the audiobook’s narrator does a stellar job to bring the story to life. So, if you have a dilemma about which format to pick, pick audio. It's great.


OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Zack Argyle’s Voice Of War was a bit of unknown entity for me. The blurb didn’t promise much in the way of originality but this book was chosen by Lynn as her finalist and throughout her review, she fluently surmised what made it special for her.

I went in with no preconceived notions and got a much intriguing read out of it. The story and plot settings have been mentioned as being a lot akin to Sanderson & Weeks with regards to the Mistborn & the Lightbringer series. At this point, I'm sure the author is thoroughly tired of these comparisons.  I do think there’s some ideas that are within the same ballpark but it’s not plagiarism or anything. I’m not a Sanderson or Weeks fan, I enjoy their stories but they don’t make me want to reread or cherish them. I was a bit afraid whether ZA’s work would have a similar effect. However, it wasn’t like that at all….

The one thing which immediately stands out about Zack Argyle’s debut is his characterization. With only three POV characters, the story maintains a tight narrative and Zack’s skills are on full display, With Chrys Valerian, Laurel of Zedalum and Alverax, we are given three entirely different types of people. Chrys a high general famed and haunted, Laurel an angry and driven teenager who doesn’t like limits, and Alverax, well he’s different (to say the least) and you will have to read to find out why.

The author has a certain of way of focusing on the characters and their flaws and yet not losing track of where the story is heading. All three characters have completely different outlooks and yet as a reader, I was intrigued by all three of them. Every time I switched storylines between them, I was constantly waiting to see what happens next. The biggest thing for me was to figure how and when their storylines would intersect. The secondary reason which got me invested in this story was its magic system of threadweavers and eye colours. I really thought it was an exciting introduction to the magic system and there’s enough of a foundation laid that there can be further exploration done in the sequels. I for one can’t wait to read more and see what Zack has planned.

The writing style is very smooth and the prose flows smoothly, in this sense no one will ever compare Mr. Argyle to someone like Pat Rothfuss or even Joe Abercrombie but that’s not a bad thing. The prose is kept simplistic and there were very few errors that I came across. That’s a definite plus for any debutant author (self-published or traditionally). Lastly, the best thing about the story was the streamlined pace, it’s not a huge story but the pace made me read it ever so quickly and before I knew it the climax was upon me.

The story ends on such a strong note that it completes the arcs for each of the three POV characters. The story also leaves a few minor but important threads open for the sequels and I know I will be there for them. Zack Argyle wowed me simply with this story and characterization and I really enjoyed what seeds he's planted within this grand fantasy epic.

 Official SPFBO rating



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