Title: When the Heavens Fall
Author: Marc Turner
Series: The Chronicle of the Exile #1
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Received for review from Audible
Summary (from Goodreads)
If you pick a fight with Shroud, the Lord of the Dead, you had better make sure you end up on the winning side, else death will mark only the beginning of your suffering.
A book that gives its wielder power over the dead has been stolen from a fellowship of mages that has kept the powerful relic dormant for centuries. The thief, a crafty, power-hungry necromancer, intends to use the Book of Lost Souls to resurrect an ancient race and challenge Shroud for dominion of the underworld. Shroud counters by sending his most formidable servants to seize the artifact at all cost.
However, the god is not the only one interested in the Book, and a host of other forces converge, drawn by the powerful magic that has been unleashed. Among them is a reluctant Guardian who is commissioned by the Emperor to find the stolen Book, a troubled prince who battles enemies both personal and political, and a young girl of great power, whose past uniquely prepares her for an encounter with Shroud. The greatest threat to each of their quests lies not in the horror of an undead army but in the risk of betrayal from those closest to them. Each of their decisions comes at a personal cost and will not only affect them, but also determine the fate of their entire empire.
It took me a while to get into this one. It wasn’t so much that it was bad in any way – it was just like the beginnings of a lot of epic fantasy novels. Lots of characters, not so much idea at first as to how they are all connected. As is always the way, there were characters that I liked more than others, and it took a little while to acclimatise to each of their backgrounds and motivations.
Once I was about a quarter of the way through – quite a long period of time given that the audiobook was 22 hours long – I started to really enjoy it. The draw of the book, the way it pulls all the other characters together, adds a sense of menace, and a ticking clock that means the tension ratchets up all the way through. In fact, the closer I got to the end, the better it got, which was a shame because the slightly slow beginning might put off less perseverant readers, and they’d miss out on what is otherwise a very good story.
There was definitely plenty of epicness as well – the characters are fighting against each other, the undead, and powerful gods. There’s magic and treachery, kings and knights and all the fantasy staples. But while the tropes are all there, the book feels fresh and new. I always enjoy Gods that aren’t as invincible as you might expect, and the way the various Gods are all battling each other through their human minions kept the twists and turns coming – you could never quite tell what people were planning to do.
The narrative was at times a little heavy on the telling and a couple of the main characters had slightly annoying ways of speaking – including one who referred to himself entirely in the third person, and a ghost that said ‘thou’ and ‘sayest’ to show he’s ancient, I suppose. But the narrator of the audiobook did an excellent job of giving life and individuality to each of the many characters. In fact, his performance was so good, it really helped me to overlook the more annoying characters and got me past the slower beginning.
So, all in all, a flawed novel, but an entertaining one once you get past the clunky beginning. I imagine book two in the series, if it follows the same characters, will be a really good read.