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Thursday, February 29, 2024

The Rest To The Gods by Joshua Walker (reviewed by Matthew Higgins)


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OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFO: Joshua Walker is the author of The Song of the Sleepers series. He was born in Sydney, Australia and was an avid reader from the age of five, when he first read The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien ‘all by himself’. Josh currently lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife and BFD (Big Fluffy Dog). In between spending time with his family and friends, he sticks to a regimented writing routine, and is also a primary teacher. He also makes his own beer, and likes to think it’s pretty good.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: On the peak of the Mountain Pass, the Four-Front War takes its final breaths.
The walls are closing in.
The allies are dwindling.
The last front is on its knees.
OVERVIEW: Joshua Walker’s ‘The Rest To The Gods’ is a promising display of word building prowess sure to keep your fingers eagerly turning those metaphysical kindle pages. Wholly original and action packed, by the time you finish you’ll be left questioning the nature of time since it cannot have possibly traveled so quickly in the space it takes to peruse this nifty novella.
Whilst the character development did feel constrained within the minimal novella size, and the lore fed in by the mouthful it was fun and ultimately, that’s a fantastic measure of a good book.
“Do not think that by heartening your heart you can accomplish your every goal in this life, child”
I start this review by being honest...
This book was 100% a mood read. I’d seen the cover going around on social media and being the whimsical plank that I am, I decided to blow up the TBR…
But, as readers will find when they spend time in Joshua’s world, this was not without good reason. For Joshua invites into a Redwall-esque world in the midst of a grand war, and he certainly does not hang about!
 We start in media res with our protagonist Nischia who is one of the eponymous Sleepers. Caught in a battle high up in the peaks, Nischia and the Aobians face overwhelming odds in a last stand for their kingdom.
A sleeper is essentially Joshua’s in-world mage, and they use a magic system known as Luminosity to power their cism (aka magic). It was inventive and refreshing and I was certainly  intrigued to learn more, even if the terminology at times could be a little overwhelming.
Alongside the present day, Joshua also delves into Nischia’s past and her initiation into the order of the Sleepers, which is where most of the emotional heft of this novella comes from. Nischia certainly has what one could deem a ‘troubled’ past, although it is usually Nischia caught in the midst of these troubles, and I found I could really admire her strength and tenacity through all she suffered.
The dual narrative allows Joshua to expand on the present via the past and vice versa, which adds a nice sense of progression to the novella, each chapter revealing a new aspect of character. Furthermore, it kept me on the hook, finding myself eager to return to the next piece of the story regardless of timeline, and never left me wanting!
Surprisingly the present narrative was my personal favourite, despite the more character driven nature of Nischia’s past. Personally, I found that there simply wasn’t enough page time available to devote to Nischia’s past to show the depths that I would personally find fully compelling. The broad themes on display in Nischia’s past, of overcoming adversity and emotional turmoil are certainly very respectable, however there is a lot to unpack and I think being a novella hindered its ability to really delve as deep as I would've liked.
Accordingly the underlying political plot occuring didn’t have the impact I believe Joshua was aiming for. For me the surprises that came in this section felt underwhelming because we hadn’t had the time to fully connect to the cast of characters before things turn on their head. This undermined the impact of those twists which for me developed rather too quickly. Whilst this is certainly an ambitious novella, broad in scale, yet intimate in character, I do think with more page time it could’ve been more impactful.
To speak of my favourite section though, we go to the present day, where most of the creative world building is on display. I really loved the feel of these anthropomorphic characters in the vein of Brian JaquesRedwall series; they were endearing and incredibly easy to root for. Who doesn’t love a good last stand after all! There *was* a lot of new terminology introduced rather quickly, and this may potentially put off new readers, however I think as readers it's important to understand that we don’t need to grasp every concept to enjoy a fun new tale. Joshua does an admirable job of centering us through the character of Nischia, so one can always ground themselves with her character in the midst of the unfolding chaos.
I do think again that the small page count did hinder some aspects of the suspense and action, but this is surely a promising aspect too, as I trust with a wider page count that Joshua will find a suitable rhythm. The fast pace certainly aided in turning the pages, despite somewhat undermining the suspense of the piece.
Despite being an almost singularly located novella, we do learn a lot about the wider world, and the culture of the Aobians with their great tree was a great example of inventive worldbuilding. Especially in today’s age of climate change it's always welcome to see a culture rooted (no pun intended!!) in the beauty and majesty of nature. This makes the world feel as if a living character itself, similar to Pandora in the Avatar movies. I certainly appreciate how much we could learn from worlds such as this and their connection to nature.
CONCLUSION: Overall, a very promising debut which has certainly left me ready to delve into Joshua’s subsequent works. Pacy and punchy, grounded characters in an inventive world, despite the page count undermining some aspects, i couldn’t turn those pages fast enough! Watch out world, the Aussie author squad is coming for us!! (Seriously, Mark Timmony, Luke Schulz, now Joshua, it’s fantastic!)


Veros said...

You had me at Redwall-esque! I've been reading more novellas lately and now I'm curious about this one. Great review.


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