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Tuesday, May 23, 2023

The Will Of The Many by James Islington (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order The Will Of The Many over HERE
AUTHOR INFORMATION: James Islington was born and raised in southern Victoria, Australia. His influences growing up were the stories of Raymond E. Feist and Robert Jordan, but it wasn't until later, when he read Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series - followed soon after by Patrick Rothfuss' Name of the Wind - that he was finally inspired to sit down and write something of his own. He now lives with his wife and two children on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria

The Catenan Republic—the Hierarchy—may rule the world now, but they do not know everything.

I tell them my name is Vis Telimus. I tell them I was orphaned after a tragic accident three years ago, and that good fortune alone has led to my acceptance into their most prestigious school. I tell them that once I graduate, I will gladly join the rest of civilised society in allowing my strength, my drive and my focus—what they call Will—to be leeched away and added to the power of those above me, as millions already do. As all must eventually do.
I tell them that I belong, and they believe me.

But the truth is that I have been sent to the Academy to find answers. To solve a murder. To search for an ancient weapon. To uncover secrets that may tear the Republic apart.

And that I will never, ever cede my Will to the empire that executed my family.

To survive, though, I will still have to rise through the Academy’s ranks. I will have to smile, and make friends, and pretend to be one of them and win. Because if I cannot, then those who want to control me, who know my real name, will no longer have any use for me.

And if the Hierarchy finds out who I truly am, they will kill me.

CLASSIFICATION: The Hierarchy series is an epic fantasy that combines the rich world setting of the TV show Rome with the charismatic voice of Red Rising.

The Will Of The Many is a triumphant sophomore series effort by James Islington. I don’t know what was the original idea for this series but knowing the author’s intent to have extra layers to classic fantasy tropes. With the new Heirarchy series, there’s a new twist to some classic tropes namely a brilliant protagonist, a military academy and a post apocalyptic civilization, all this and more awaits for those who dare.

One thing I can say about James Islington is that he must a person who loves mysteries, his debut trilogy featured a lot of twists and mysteries. Within this new series called The Heirarchy, we are given a whole new secondary world that’s been richly inspired by Roman culture & its sprawling empire. The Will Of The Many is set in a world where there are mysteries abound in every aspect of the story, characters and the world. We are introduced to Vis Solum, an orphan who is brilliant as they come. Vis however has his own mystery, he’s not exactly who his family thinks he is but that’s a mystery for the reader to find out. 

The world is very unique and we are introduced to it brilliantly throughout the story. The Catenan Republic (the Hierarchy) is the main power in the world and has an insidious hold on the world and all of its inhabitants. The way the magic system works is basically a giant Ponzi scheme where people cede their will to a person higher in station and as you can imagine the pyramid effect. There’s an eightfold pyramid scheme of Will where the prime person (a Princeps receives the will from 40,320 people under them), hence the hierarchy follows:
- Dimidus (20,160 people)
- Tertius (6,720 people)
- Quartus (1,680 people)
- Quintus (336 people)
- Sextus (56 people)
- Septimus (8 people)
- Octavus (0 people)
This pyramid scheme of will is what literally fuels the empire. It makes supermen out of regular folks and makes them accomplish impossible things like make gargantuan structures float for miles to be used for transport. The worldbuilding is spectacular to say the least from a perspective that hasn’t been explored much in the fantasy genre. This secondary world inspired by Roman culture, avarice and politicking is perfectly laid bare for the readers to feast their imaginations upon. From gladiatorial matches to an aquatic battle in a colosseum like structure to the very essence of their societal structure. James Islington creates a living breathing world that is fascinatingly complex. It’s also a world wherein the Catenan Republic is this huge entity that has conquered most of the known world and now seems to be on the verge of implosion because where else will it expand upon if it has conquered everything outward. The Catenan beast is a complex Ghidorah with various heads such as Military, Religion & Governance and they are all at loggerheads with each other. There’s a lot of covert subterfuge going on which I expect, in further volumes will be explored exponentially.

Lastly if all of this wasn’t enough, this world is also a post-apocalyptic one. As over three centuries ago, an event called the Cataclysm depopulated the world by about 95%. The rise of the Catenan Republic started roughly 150 years ago when they rediscovered usage of Will and several instruments from the Pre-Cataclysmic era. There are various other things that the readers are exposed to and all of it makes for fascinating reading. Clearly, James Islington has put a lot of thought into this world and he’s purposefully obscured a lot as well. You as a reader are bound to have questions and that is definitely on PURPOSE.

The story is told entirely from Vis Solum’s perspective, it is in first person, and this is starkly different from the Licanius trilogy, which was a third person multi-POV story. Vis is a charming and ultra-focused seventeen year old who begins the story as a spy of sorts but then soon gets embroiled in a much more complicated scenario involving a Quintus and the Catenan academy located on Solivagus island. Vis is shown to be a remarkable talented teenager and he brings to mind his charismatic luminaries in the SFF genre like Paul Atreides and Darrow O’Lykos. He is intelligent, ruthless, martially proficient and while there is no prophecy invoked. He’s still involved in the thick of things. Vis’ narration is charming and entirely complicated due to the plot twists and the gargantuan entity that he’s striving against solely. Starting of a spy, his situation soon escalates to a double agent and then further expands to be a triple agent (under duress). There’s an inception level of deception involved on Vis’ part and the fun is in finding out how he makes it all work (or not).

“I’m going to make sure you burn for this”

Vis is angry and vengeful and perhaps rightfully so. He has a history and an axe the size of Snaga to grind against the Hierachy. His arc is what controls the whole story and while he is very engaging. The author masterfully gives us a complicated cast to go along. From Vis’ adoptive family to the classmates he encounters in the Catenan academy. In this regards, James Islington showcases his magnificent skills a la Anthony Ryan with Blood Song. Namely inspite of a singular POV. We meet many fascinating individuals such as Magnus Quintus Ulcisor, Relucia Ulcisor, Principalis Quintus Veridius Julii, Eridhin, Callidus, Aequa, etc. They are all complex personas who have their own agendas and plays and it will be fun to read what happens next and where their story threads intersect with Vis’ plans.

Another fascinating aspect of the plot is the military academy setting that encapsulate over half of the story.  In addition, the conclusion of the story is very much akin to a scenario like Battle Royale. Then there’s more world secrets that are introduced at the very end which are stunning to put it mildly. All in all this book is the start of something complex and similar to the Licanius trilogy, I have no idea where everything will end up. I also have to highlight how this book is not just an epic fantasy story but more like a SF-epic fantasy hybrid and the only thing I will say about that is “Obiteum & Luceum”. This is again no surprise to readers of his previous work as therein he blended time travel with classical epic fantasy. So herein we get a wild mix of science fiction with political spy fantasy and that’s just the beginning.

The prose is definitely a plus and is while it isn’t of the purple shade. It’s very much straightforward and solid enough for comparison with other epic fantasy luminaries such as Brian McClellan, Alec Hutson & John Gwynne. The book is definitely over 200k in wordcount but the pace of the story is smooth and stays steady so that you will want to read ahead and find out what happens next.

So are there any deficiencies within? Well that depends and it is entirely incumbent on the readers’ preferences. Firstly, the cover is a bit staid and doesn’t do a good job of conveying how amazingly epic the story is within. Secondly, Vis can come off as a bit of a Gary Stu and while this is fantasy, there are some who just won’t be able to fathom how a seventeen-year-old teenager is able to survive amidst this hyper tense atmosphere. He’s good at almost everything he does and yes there’s his background which is used to explain his psychological, physical and scholarly prowess. He’s gifted and he knows it. Think Paul or Darrow or Vaelin, if you could suspend your belief then it will be allright. However if you are the nitpicky type then this might not work for you. The climax is fantastic but the epilogue will have you screaming for the next book “The Strength Of The Few” with alacrity. 

CONCLUSION: The Will Of The Many is James Islington’s sophomore step in claiming a honoured space in the annals of epic fantasy. This is an epic story that combines several fantasy tropes with a clear voice that will beguile you on his vengeful journey. Join Vis as he tries his best to bring down the Catenan Republic. Proving that while The Will Of The Many might be Herculean, all it takes is a single spark to ignite an inferno and Vis might just get to do that.



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