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Tuesday, February 14, 2023

SPFBO 8 Finalist Review: A Touch of Light by Thiago Abdalla


Book links: AmazonGoodreads

AUTHOR INFO: Thiago is the author of the Ashes of Avarin series composed of 'A Touch of Light', the prequel novella 'A Prelude to Ashes' and the upcoming novels: 'A Shade of Madness', 'A Twist of Faith', and 'A Promise of Dawn'.

He was born in Brazil but grew up in the fantasy worlds from the stories he kept in his mind. He has inhabited everywhere from Middle-Earth and Azeroth to the planes of Dominaria, Ravnica and Tarkir. No matter the medium, what kept him coming back was always his love for story.

He could never wait for the next world to dive into, so, after being (indirectly) urged on by the (printed) words of Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Patrick Rothfuss, N. K. Jemisin and many, many others, decided to create his own.

Publisher: The Alterian Press (March 1, 2022) Page Count: 456 (Kindle edition) Cover art: Alejandro Colucci


A Touch of Light is one of those books that I have been seeing for the last couple years on twitter. I’ve added it to my tbr at least a dozen times, and removed it nearly as many- depending on what I had heard about it. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to quit being so undecisive and finally read it.


I don’t even know where to begin talking about this story. The simplest thing I can say is that this is a plague/zombie/madness storyline (28 weeks later kind of idea) but that just makes it sound too simple because it is so much more than that. There was a lot to unpack in this book- exploration of faith and culture, death and grief, and everything in between. Thiago’s world is rich, and quite character-orientated- making it hard to go into details, without paragraphs of explanation first.


I really liked the opening of this story (with the war table). It drew me in immediately because I do love military fantasy, and was hopeful for some good strategy/troops stuff. And of course, Adrian, was a great intro-character for me, being he was taking over his brothers’ troops etc. and who doesn’t love when the younger prince has to step-up and fill in his elder brother’s giant much-loved shoes?

This is a difficult time for Adrian- Prince of the Domain. Struggling with grief over the loss of his loved ones feelings of inadequacy in the eyes of his father, and the armies he leads. He can’t even mourn or celebrate their lives, because death, is in fact, a sin. Such an interesting premise. According to their faith; once dead, they can no longer be remembered or spoken about aloud, unless they are deemed worthy in the eyes of their goddess.

I enjoyed Adrian’s story the most. Though I did have some issues with the back-end of his part of the story, becoming rushed, and some of his choices and the events with the princess Kahlia, had me at a bit of a loss as to the reasons behind them. But of the three pov’s his was the one I looked forward to getting back to.

Lynn is a Sentinel a guardian of the domain. We are introduced to Lynn hiding away from her order in prison. Lynn has the voices of the dead in her head, she channels strength from their bond to her, and she gains different powers; depending on which voice she bonds with. I never could decide if I really understood how they work. Were they spirits? Or just a guilty conscience? Am I totally off-base and she’s not bonding to them at all?  Who knows.
As her story unfolds, we find her past is tied to the plague of madness, that is quickly spreading through the land.

And the final pov Nasha, is outside the domain in the Clan lands. Nasha is an outsider. A hunter now, she has earned her stripes working her way up through the ranks while hiding, what she refers to as her curse. Basically, she can become overwhelmed with the emotions of others; absorbing them and mixing with her own- until they are controlling her and she goes into a frenzy- sometimes killing everyone around her.  As near as I can figure, she’s like a berserker. By the same token, she can also use emotions of some, to keep balance and calm herself. Part of her journey is learning how to control these ups and downs.


Not much explanation is given with the magic, it’s just there. I’m not one that needs it all mapped-out with rules but I do like some occasional guidance.

Adrian didn’t have any obvious magic like the other pov’s. Though there are hints that he is something special because of his blood, which I am sure will be expanded on later.

The loose feel to the magic, suited the loose feeling worldbuilding.


A Touch of Light, was not an easy read for me. It’s a throw you in, sink-or-swim styled world, and the writing can be quite descriptive in places, while still leaving key information out.

To some degree throwing you in feet-first is the case with a lot of fantasy, and maybe because there are few recognizable fantasy tropes to rely on to do some of the heavy-lifting, Thiago’s world, required a little more work for me to fully-grasp the lay of the land. I’m still not sure I really got it all. I did wish for a bit more information because a lot of my notetaking involved statements with question marks and some of those question marks, stayed there right up to the end.

That sounds bad and I don’t mean it to be. I think this is going to be one of those series (like Jesse Teller’s) where each book builds bits and pieces, until you see everything clearly at the last, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Depending on what you like in your fantasy, this is a style that may pay-off for you. The story is certainly interesting enough to make the effort.


Across the land of Avarin, a madness awakens, corrupting the unfortunate, and moving them against the Dominion and the church of the Seraph, and the Promised Dawn, when the righteous will be reborn in the Seraph’s glory.

If that sounds like a heady mouthful, it is. Light is an ambitious book, crammed with detail and large-scale ideas. There’s a wealth of information imparted here and it can get overwhelming at times. This isn’t an easy book to fall into as a casual read, or that holds your hand. I had to pay attention to keep stuff straight in my head. The thing is, even with all the information, I felt like some things were left unstated. For example, I didn’t get an overly good sense of the nations of Avarin. Othonea and Dakhra are set up as rivals and enemies, but aside from technological differences, I couldn’t tell you the first thing that set them apart.

The narrative follows three characters: Adrian, younger and less-favored prince of Othonea; Nasha, hunter of the Ronar tribe and keeper of a secret berserker madness; and Lynn, an ex-Sentinel (church solider), haunted by her past and knowledge of the Madness. All three are imperfect and tormented by their losses and past actions, which is how I like my protagonists, so I grew to empathize with them all to varying degrees. They were all pretty gray in the morality department but I felt like Lynn experienced the most personal growth and she was my favorite person in the entire novel.

Overall, the flow & pace of the story is decent enough and I was engaged enough that the prose felt fine. With the Madness spreading, each character grapples with the big and small implications (for their people and for them personally). There are a lot of tense scenes and battles, with suitable blood and guts. The mystery of the Madness leaves a lot of questions until the very end—which opens up a pile more questions for later volumes. Oh, and there are some fun griffins that shine late in the story.

I mentioned that I liked Lynn the best. Part of that is because she might be one of the few trustworthy folks in the narrative. Individual or nation, literally everyone here embodies the idea of, “don’t turn your back on them or they’ll stick a knife in it.” Chronic backstabbing is the order of the day and while a well-timed betrayal can be the linchpin of a plot, it’s so common here it’s easier to count the honorable characters … and it the lack of being able to trust anyone actually made me impatient to get to the end.

My only other criticism is that this book doesn’t have it’s own self-contained story arc, but feels like a chunk caught off a larger continuing narrative with an arbitrary end point. I’m sure that won’t bother a lot of readers and is suitable for the sweeping-epic style of the book.

Like I said above, Touch is an ambitious, epic-style novel, that clearly has a lot of story left to tell. I recommend it for fans of mega-epics, battles, and morally-gray characters.


A Touch of Light tries to do many things, and it mostly succeeds. Abdalla introduces a complex world without relying too much on exposition. He creates nuanced storylines for each of the three POV characters. Maybe even too nuanced, because sometimes (especially at the beginning) it's difficult to understand what the book is actually about :)

We follow three main POV characters as they struggle with the changing world and their own ideas of life and death. Adrian is obsessed with bringing his dead loved ones to worthiness (and giving them a chance of being revived in the future). Nasha, a huntress, can sense the emotions of others. Lynn is an elite warrior who has gone rogue from the order of griffin riders. 

I read for characters. I don't have to relate to them but I need to find them intriguing to enjoy the reading experience. In this case, I couldn't relate to any of them and while they certainly feel three-dimensional, I didn't find any of them particularly interesting. As a result, my experience with A Touch of Light lacked genuine immersion and my score may feel unfair to those who appreciated other facets of the story.

And there are things to appreciate - for example, a magic system based on emotions. Griffin riders bond with the griffins and share emotions with them getting upgrades (strength, speed) in return. There's also an intriguing exploration of notions of life and death and the characters' relationship to them. 

A Touch of Light is a solid and competent book that should appeal to many readers. It's sometimes confusing and character development sometimes happens too fast with no apparent (or off-page) reasons. Ultimately, though, it's fast-paced, character-driven, and potentially interesting to many. It didn't quite work for me but it shouldn't stop you from giving it a shot.


This was a tough one for me.

We have here a complex story with everything you’d want in a fantasy novel. The book has a pile of glowing reviews and its share of fans, many of whom raved about the writing. Folks loved the breakneck pacing, its handling of themes and cultures, the characters, and pretty much every aspect of the book.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get that far as the prose kept breaking my immersion. Note how I mentioned earlier folks praising the writing? Well, apparently that stuff is subjective. Surprise! I found much of the phrasing odd. Too often a paragraph or sentence would stop me dead, and I’d go back and reread it, trying to figure out the author’s intent.

An example:

She stood at the edge of the tree line, frowning back at the three Ronar clansmen in the clearing, but Iallo only itched at the back of the stubble that covered his head and looked away, while Embe was already starting the fire.

I understand everything said here, but that’s an awkward (run on sentence) way of wording a simple scene. There were enough of these that it was, for me, problematic. It’s possible I’m crazy/picky because, like I said, many reviewers praise the prose.

And then there were a lot of sentences like…

The prodding in Nasha’s ribs was growing stronger, but it was clear now the irritation was her own.


His pack was on the ground beside his heavy axe and a belt filled with throwing knives, and his heavily bearded face was turned towards the firewood. He was blowing embers into life, while Jima, the only hunter other than her, was squinting unhelpfully at the ground, trying to make out the tracks.

And here is where I am crazy. I read this in the middle of a month-and-a-half-long editing jag and was unable to turn off my Editor Brain. As such, I am part of the problem. Or maybe the entire problem.

What we have here is a book that a lot of folks loved but which did not work for me on a purely mechanical level. If you’re a fan of fast paced fantasy with a lot going on, you should check it out.

For me, however, the book was a DNF. 


OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: A Touch Of Light is Thiago Abdalla’s debut and by all accounts a book that is as complex as they come. This debut is about a cultural clash and it’s particularly focused on the concept of death, and how religion and faith are deeply ensconced around it.

The series is titled Ashes Of Avarin and in this world, death is the main point of contention and we are introduced to two cultures with diametrically opposing views about its veracity. The Domain group of nations worship the church of Seraph who is supposed to bestow unnaturally long lives on the most faithful. On the other side, we have the four Clan groups who are morbidly afraid of the prophesized return of the Death Goddess Zala. In their unique view, the cycle of life and death is an absolute necessity and they don’t have any qualms about killing folks all in the name of balance.

The main plot from A Touch Of Light is from these three perspectives:
-  The prince of Othonia Adrian Pell is trying to grieve for his brother Jovu but cannot really do so publically.
- The hunter Nasha has a cursed ability and is desperately trying to fit in with her clan called the Ronar while being stymied by their rules and practices.  
- The warrior Lynn, is a Sentinel fighting against the plague known as the Madness along with her Griffin Vedyr.  

As you can surmise so far, Thiago has really put a lot of thought in his world and the overall storyline. For me as a worldbuilding junkie, this was a terrific debut to read and from the clans in the south to the various practices of the Domain to the Griffin riders and their militaristic methods. All of this was excellent and really brought this world vividly to life. This is a world that’s rife with extremely religious attitudes, political machinations and violence.

Thankfully the character cast is kept narrow but we do get to see all aspects of the world thanks to all three POV characters being in such different worlds. The author brings to life the world that Adrian inhabits where politicking & backstabbing is done with every breath and every move is a calculated one. With Lynn, her grief and sorrow really bring to light what a horror her life has been but she’s a hero who doesn’t quit. Nasha is a troubled soul who’s trapped by the customs of her Ronar clan and I loved how the author highlighted her troubles and what she utilizes (certain smells) to calm her mind.

Lastly the Griffins and holy cow, this was such a cool feature to the world. By adding them, I feel the author has elevated his story into another level. I cannot wait for the sequels to see what else the author does with regards to these magnificent creatures.

For me, what didn’t work was that this book takes a bit Malazan-esque approach of dropping you into the world without much explanation and this can be a tad confusing. However Thiago doesn’t go full Erikson and still gives us enough explanations from time to time to make sene of the complicated world.

The writing while overall smooth, can feel a bit verbose at times. The pace of the book is also a bit uneven and that can be due to the plot as it sets up the world and overall story. However the last 1/3rd of the story really comes at a breakneck pace with lots of plot happenings and setting up the sequel spectacularly. Lastly the cover is a simple but effective one and I’m hoping that the sequels really shine brighter.

For me, A Touch Of Light highlights what Thiago Abdalla is attempting and I for one, will be wanting to read the sequels when the 2022 finals ends as all the sequel books are scheduled to be out this year. 



Anonymous said...

Taking into consideration a review in which the reviewer not only wasn't in the headspace to finish reading (Shouldn't this be requires for a Finalist book to be reviewed?) but also adopted some serious preconceived notions about the author, seems like a pretty low blow. Taking nationality into consideration as a means to drag the book over the coals? Doesn't SPFBO encourage writers from all nations to submit? Yes, this is a competition of fantasy written in English, but the comments regarding English as a Second Language felt petty. I'm a native speaker myself, have been watching the competition with great intereest and in light of the other reviews in this post, which sat generally in the middle of the road, this one felt like a below-the-belt foul.

The Reader said...

Hello Anonymous,

At FBC, we have a team and we trust each reviewer to read as they see fit. If the book doesn't work for our team members, then we don't force them to continue. So each reviewer is allowed to grant a score as they see fit.

"Taking nationality into consideration as a means to drag the book over the coals?"

Nothing like this happened. It would be illogical to assume that English is the first language of every author who publishes in English and especially if they are from outside North America.

This wasn't below the belt or ill intent on Michael's part. At FBC, we have prided ourselves on reviews and we stand behind this one as well. We have also removed that bit so there's less confusion about intent.



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