Master of Sorrows by Justin Call

Master of Sorrows Cover

Publisher: Gollancz (Trade Paperback format – 21 February 2019)

Series: The Silent Gods – Book 1

Length: 576 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

I have been looking forward to reading and reviewing Master of Sorrows for a while now.  I previously mentioned this book in one of my Waiting on Wednesday articles, which got a fair amount of attention, which I took as a sign of some interest from the general fantasy fandom.  The intriguing-sounding plot also made me extremely eager to check this book out, so I was very happy when I received a copy of it from Hachette Australia.  In the end I found Master of Sorrows to be a terrific piece of fantasy fiction and an outstanding debut from first-time author Justin Call.

The world of Luquatra has known much chaos and turmoil throughout its long history as three elder gods and their followers have battled for supremacy.  But now with the dark god Keos banished from the land, the greatest concern for many is the presence of magic.  The ancient and hidden Academy of Chaenbalu has long been a bastion against all things magic and will go to extreme lengths to achieve its primary objective of finding and containing the vast number of magical artefacts scattered throughout Luquatra.  No artefact, no matter its strength or intended purpose, can be allowed to remain outside the control of the Academy, as even those artefacts created for good can be used for great evil.

In order to fulfil this sacred work, the Academy trains all the children of Chaenbula in the arts of combat and magical detection.  Only the best students will become Avatars, warrior thieves capable of infiltrating any location and making away with the hidden artefacts.  Most importantly, an Avatar is trained to resist the lure of magic and the corruption of Keos.

Annev de Breth has always dreamed of becoming an Avatar and is determined to pass the Academy’s tests.  However, Annev is different from every other student at the Academy; trained by the town’s mysterious priest, Annev has an affinity for magic and hides a secret disfigurement that would see him immediately put to death.  Caught between the warring ideologies of the man who raised him and the head of the Academy, Annev needs to decide what kind of man he wants to be while navigating the complex politics of Chaenbalu.  But ancient powers are rising from the past, and it soon becomes apparent that Annev might not be the hero of this story; instead, he may be the man destined to unleash Keos once more upon Luquatra.

As I mentioned above, Master of Sorrows is author Justin Call’s debut novel.  It is also the first book in his The Silent Gods series, which is going to be made up of four books.  Call has already announced that each of the three upcoming books will be released in late February of each year for the next three years, with this series set to wrap up in February 2022.  This first book is an ambitious introduction to series that does a fantastic job of setting up the main story, as well as introducing the reader to an intriguing new fantasy universe.

I really enjoyed the story contained within Master of Sorrows, as it is well paced out and contains some fantastic moments.  The first part of the book features Annev attempting to pass the Academy’s tests in order to become an Avatar.  I love a good magical school storyline, and this one is pretty fantastic, featuring some unique, complex and entertaining testing sequences, as well as an introduction to the complex and restrictive life within the Academy.  The rest of the book is extremely exciting and eventful as the protagonist learns more about the threats and complex world outside of Chaenbalu, and even embarks on a dangerous mission where he encounters a series of mysterious threats.  This all leads up to the book’s spectacular conclusion, which not only sets the scene for all manner of adventures in the future but also results in some interesting character development while also setting up several dangerous new antagonists with personal grudges against the main character.

One of my favourite things about the plot is the general intrigue and hypocrisy surrounding the Academy of Chaenbalu.  The Academy is framed as some ultimate bastion of good in the world, opposing the evils of magic and Keos.  However, as the book progresses, the reader, through the protagonist’s eyes, begins to see that everything about the Academy is more complex and morally ambiguous than it first appears, resulting in a number of powerful story developments.  For example, in this universe, any disfigurement or disability is viewed as a mark of the dark god Keos’s favour, and people who bear them, especially those born with some sort of disfigurement, are shunned or killed.  These rules are especially enforced within the Academy, and Annev is forced to hide his disability to stay alive.  Watching a basically good character be vilified for something outside of his control makes the reader lose trust in most of the characters associated with the Academy.  It is also very thrilling to see the lengths the protagonist will go to in order to hide his disfigurement and try to live a normal life within Chaenbalu, knowing that his secret could be discovered at any turn.  The reader is also left questioning the Academy’s many archaic rules, as these rules and blind obedience are particularly frustrating to the protagonist, who chafes at the restrictions and is constantly questioning everything.  There are also a huge number of different plots and schemes occurring within the Academy, with many of the characters having secret allegiances and plans, many of which come to the surface by the end of the book.  All of these elements are fantastic, and they really add a keen edge of intrigue and thoughtfulness to an already captivating story.

Within Master of Sorrows, Call introduces his readers to a deep and enjoyable new fantasy universe that serves as an excellent basis for his story.  While the author does make an effort to set up a much larger world, the vast majority of the story is set in and around the village of Chaenbalu, which houses the Academy.  As I have mentioned before, I loved the Academy as a setting, but some of the other locations are also intriguing, such as the massive magical forest that surrounds the town.  I really loved the overall setting of the gods and magic within this world, especially when it comes to people’s perceptions about them, as they have some fantastic impacts on the story.  Call spends a bit of time expanding on the mythology of this world’s main gods, telling their stories and explaining the impacts that they had on the world.  These are quite interesting, especially as the stories they tell reveal that the conflicts of the gods were just as complex as the issues occurring within the Academy.  The author has also come up with some fun and dangerous new fantasy creatures, mostly as servants of the god Keos.  These creatures have some great scenes, especially towards the end of the book, and I look forward to seeing more of them and this intriguing new world throughout the rest of The Silent Gods series.

I really need to the hype up some of the incredible action sequences featured within Master of Sorrows.  Call has created several exceptional extended action scenes within this book, including two intricate tests within the Academy, where the students must overcome not only each other but also the various obstacles set up against them.  These testing scenes are extremely elaborate and feature some interesting rules and opposition.  I loved reading these scenes, and it was great watching the protagonist try to complete them his way.  In addition to these testing scenes, there is also a great magic based combat sequence featured later in the book, where the protagonist and his companions must overcome all manner of magical traps and attacks in order to complete their objective.  This scene is massive in terms of destruction and brutality featured and was an excellent addition to the book.  As a result, readers who love a good amount of thrilling action in their fantasy stories should definitely check this book out as Call demonstrates a real skill for creating unique and captivating fantasy action sequences.

Master of Sorrows is an amazing debut from new author Justin Call, who has done a wonderful job setting up a fresh and intriguing new fantasy series.  This first book in the planned The Silent Gods series has some awesome and memorable plot points and features a thrilling and captivating action-packed adventure.  Call has certainly set himself up as a fantasy author to watch, and I am extremely eager to see where this story goes next.  I cannot wait to check out the second book in The Silent Gods series.

Waiting on Wednesday – The Raven Tower and Master of Sorrows

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  This week I could not decide between two very intriguing fantasy novels, both of which are being released in Australia by Hachette around the same time.  Therefore I decided to choose both of them, and I will be very interested to see which one I enjoy more in February.

The Raven Tower Cover.jpg

The first book I want to get is The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie.  Leckie is an established science fiction author who has written a number of cool-sounding books in the last few years.  While I have not had the opportunity to check out any of her previous work, her debut fantasy book, The Raven Tower, looks to be a pretty epic piece of fantasy fiction.

Gods meddle in the fates of men, men play with the fates of gods, and a pretender must be cast down from the throne in this breathtaking first fantasy novel from Ann Leckie, New York Times bestselling author and winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke Awards.

For centuries, the kingdom of Iraden has been protected by the god known as the Raven. He watches over his territory from atop a tower in the powerful port of Vastai. His will is enacted through the Raven’s Lease, a human ruler chosen by the god himself. His magic is sustained via the blood sacrifice that every Lease must offer. And under the Raven’s watch, the city flourishes.

But the power of the Raven is weakening. A usurper has claimed the throne. The kingdom borders are tested by invaders who long for the prosperity that Vastai boasts. And they have made their own alliances with other gods.

It is into this unrest that the warrior Eolo–aide to Mawat, the true Lease–arrives. And in seeking to help Mawat reclaim his city, Eolo discovers that the Raven’s Tower holds a secret. Its foundations conceal a dark history that has been waiting to reveal itself…and to set in motion a chain of events that could destroy Iraden forever.

I love the summary of this book, and it really sounds like The Raven Tower will have a good blend of fantasy and intrigue elements.  The fight for control of an ancient god in a new fantasy city sounds like it will be pretty amazing concept, especially with outside influences potentially impacting the outcome.  I am also very keen to figure out the dark secrets at the heart of the tower.  Overall, this sounds like it will be a pretty cool read and I am very keen to check it out.  No indication at the moment whether this will be a standalone novel or the start of a series, but I think it has potential as both.

Master of Sorrows Cover.jpg

The second book that I am really excited about in the next few months is Master of Sorrows by Justin Call.  Master of Sorrows is a fantastic-sounding piece of young adult fantasy fiction from debuting author Justin Call.  This will be the first in a planned series of fantasy books, titled The Silent Gods, which will no doubt be released over the next few years. What really intrigues me about this book is that I have seen two very different plot synopses, both of which sound really good but which indicate different plot directions.  The first summary is on the Hachette Australia website:

The stunning coming-of-age adventure of fantasy’s most compelling anti-hero . . .

The Academy of Chaenbalu has stood against magic for centuries.

Hidden from the world, acting from the shadows, it trains its students to detect and retrieve magic artifacts, which it jealously guards from the misuse of others. Because magic is dangerous: something that heals can also harm, and a power that aids one person may destroy another.

Of the Academy’s many students, only the most skilled can become Avatars – warrior thieves, capable of infiltrating the most heavily guarded vaults – and only the most determined can be trusted to resist the lure of magic.

More than anything, Annev de Breth wants to become one of them.

This summary paints the book as a coming-of-age story at a magical academy, with a secret organisation of magicians being trained to locate and obtain magical items from a new fantasy universe.  I love a great magical training narrative, and this sounds like a pretty cool book all on its own; however, when combined with its Goodreads synopsis, this storyline takes on a whole new flair:

You have heard the story before – of a young boy, orphaned through tragic circumstances, raised by a wise old man, who comes to a fuller knowledge of his magic and uses it to fight the great evil that threatens his world.

But what if the boy hero and the malevolent, threatening taint were one and the same?
What if the boy slowly came to realize he was the reincarnation of an evil god? Would he save the world . . . or destroy it?

Among the Academy’s warrior-thieves, Annev de Breth is an outlier. Unlike his classmates who were stolen as infants from the capital city, Annev was born in the small village of Chaenbalu, was believed to be executed, and then unknowingly raised by his parents’ killers.

Seventeen years later, Annev struggles with the burdens of a forbidden magic, a forgotten heritage, and a secret deformity. When he is subsequently caught between the warring ideologies of his priestly mentor and the Academy’s masters, he must choose between forfeiting his promising future at the Academy or betraying his closest friends. Each decision leads to a deeper dilemma, until Annev finds himself pressed into a quest he does not wish to fulfil.

Will he finally embrace the doctrine of his tutors, murder a stranger, and abandon his mentor? Or will he accept the more difficult truth of who he is . . . and the darker truth of what he may become . . .

This paints the story in a far darker light, with a protagonist with a secret and the magical academy he is being trained at a far more sinister institution, as they apparently executed his parents as part of their mission.  It also sounds like the protagonist will have to make some hard decisions as he chooses between his friends and the career he always wanted.
Essentially, I was sold on both synopsises for this book.  Combined, Master of Sorrows sounds like it has the potential to be a really great read.  I am really looking forward to this book, and I think it could turn out to be one of the best debuts of 2019.