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The Black Shriving by Phil Tucker

The Black Shriving by Phil Tucker
Book Name: The Black Shriving
Author: Phil Tucker
Publisher(s): Self-Published
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: March 14, 2017

Spoiler Warning: This review contains spoilers for book one in the Chronicles of the Black Gate series. Read with caution if you have yet to finish The Path of Flames.

The seeds (some of them noxious weeds) planted in The Path of Flames start to germinate and sprout in The Black Shriving, book two of the Chronicles of the Black Gate series. We go deeper into this brilliant world created by Phil Tucker, and our favorite heroes and anti-heroes grow in their power.

As with The Path of Flames, the stupendous worldbuilding in The Black Shriving makes the setting feel like a real world – steeped in history whose events have a logical connection to magic. Even though Tucker introduced us to many of these mystical aspects in book one – whether it was Magister Audsley reminiscing about the towers of Nous rising out of the water, or characters waxing about the religious dogma of Ascendency – the initial settings of The Path of Flames felt grounded by the same natural laws as our own world. Sure, there was the concept of sincasting introduced in the first mass battle; but afterwards, the story quickly turned to training in swordplay. Knights and tournaments and political conspiracy—all fun and engaging, but nothing that stood out as magical. It was only when the author led us through the Ravens Gate to a land infested by demons and magic swords that the delicious otherworldliness truly seeped into the story.

In The Black Shriving, we adventure deeper into the supernatural side of the world. We learn about the connection between the demons and magic, and how they are related to some of the concepts introduced in The Path of Flames. If you were curious as to why Asho’s and Tharok’s swords were so similar, well, we can make new guesses now. We visit new, magical places like Starkadr and The Black Gate; and a transit point similar to the hallway of doors in The Matrix or the Wood Between Worlds in the Chronicles of Narnia. We also get to travel to Agerastos, which has its own culture and a religion based on the worship of Medusas – coincidentally, or perhaps not so coincidentally, the same object of idolatry by the ancient Kragh.

The mechanics of sincasting is further explained, as is the relationship between The Black Gate and gate stone, or as the Kragh call it, shaman stone. It feels as if the connections that were hinted at in book one are built upon in book two, like the physical cost of sincasting, and how it can be transferred to someone else or abated by gate stone; and how someone’s connection to the White Gate causes them to burn out, yet can be balanced by the black potion seen in the opening scene of The Path of Flames.

With this in mind, I theorize there is a polarity between the White Gate in Aletheia and the Black Gate in Bythos (and, since we learn in book one that there are two Black Gates, it wouldn’t surprise me if there is a second White Gate out there somewhere). Like a magnet, or the concepts of Yin and Yang, they feed off each other and complete each other. I suspect it is how Asho was able to anchor the taint of sincasting into Kethe in The Path of Flames – and we get to see even more of that in The Black Shriving as they move beyond beating the superhuman Virtue, Makaria, in book one to bigger and badder beasties in book two.

We also get to see relationships develop—whether those are deeper bonds of friendship, or those of a more romantic type. Like in a romance story, Tucker entertains us with a particular couple, which clearly has a mutual attraction, but act like teenagers in making overtures, but then pull back; while the object of their affection constantly second guesses the others’ intentions. It’s like a high school rom-com, only with different types of backstabbing and betrayal, and real swords and magic.

Don’t let the romantic thrust (see what I did there?) keep you from reading The Black Shriving. Just as in The Path of Flames, the core driver of conflict is not love triangles and the quest for popularity, but rather, religious dogma. It takes the form of internal cultural struggle like the Kragh torn between the old worship of the Sky God and the more ancient reverence of medusas; or individual internal struggle with the validity of Ascension; or the cross-cultural wars between Ascension and Agerastos.

On top of compelling themes and complex worldbuilding, The Black Shriving doesn’t disappoint with further development of the characters we came to love in The Path of Flames. They grow both in power in personality in The Black Shriving. Tiron, the broken Ennoian Knight with mixed loyalties of book one has new motivations and drive. Searing anger no longer drives Asho as he learns more about his powers. Complementing and contrasting him, Kethe develops her connection to the White Gate. Audsley is confronted with unenviable choices as he learns more about the magic of Starkadr; and my new favorite, Iskra’s drive to save her son becomes the basis for her desire to save the world. And of course, my other favorite, Tharok. If you never wanted to root for an orc before, here’s your chance.

At the end of my review for The Path of Flames, I tossed Phil Tucker through the Black Gate for deigning to name a shantytown “Heart of Gold”. For his fully entertaining and engaging story, and no more egregious blasphemy to the world of sci-fi/fantasy, I will allow him to ascend out of the demon-infested pits of Hell, and be reborn as a Bythian.

That out of the way, he set the standard high with book one, and I do not think book two was as amazing. It gets 9.327 stars on my very secretive 10-point rating scale (I also judge fried chicken with the same objectivity).

NOTE: I’ve been both reading and listening to the series on Audiobook. I’m absolutely loving Noah Michael Levin’s wide range of accents and voices.


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