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Chasing Graves by Ben Galley

Chasing Graves by Ben Galley
4.25
Book Name: Chasing Graves
Author: Ben Galley
Publisher(s): Self-Published
Formatt: Ebook
Genre(s): Dark Fantasy
Release Date: December 7, 2018

Spoiler Warning: This review contains minor spoilers. Read with caution if you have yet to finish the book.

“They must die in turmoil. They shall be bound with copper and water of the Nyx. They must be bound within forty days. They shall be bound to whomever holds their coin. They are slaved to their master’s bidding. They must bring their masters no harm. They shall not express opinions nor own property. They shall never know freedom unless it is gifted to them…”

Ben Galley’s first installment of The Chasing Graves Trilogy is threateningly ominous with grim undertones laced throughout. However, before I begin allow me to ease you into Galley’s world for a brief moment.

Imagine yourself as a newcomer to a hostile city, one that deals in a trade that could put you in serious danger as soon as night falls. Servitude reigns supreme and while some might be able to escape enslavement by taking their own life, that is no longer the reality. And also keep in mind that what drives this city is not life, no, but death. You find yourself in this city, after dark, amongst those that make their living off of subjecting, not the living, but the undead. And you are suddenly attacked.

You, once of vulnerable flesh and vibrant spirit, set on remaining functional in your casing of vulnerable flesh and tempered spirit, are now no more. The comfort of sleeping to both pass the time and to revitalize yourself is no more. Taking pleasure in setting your teeth in a juicy, savory fruit is no more. Even feeling the whisper of the wind graze your skin, or the softness of a touch, is no more. You are now but a vaporous shell with little left that is still tangible. Little, except the desire to either cease in existence entirely or regain some fragment of your former reality. You are the undead amongst the tyrannical reign of the living. And boy, does it reign.

Yes, that is what Galley brings to the table with Chasing Graves.

The main protagonist, Caltro Basalt, finds himself in Araxes, known more precisely as The City of Countless Souls, for the sole reason that the entire economic foundations practically hangs upon the practice of soulstealing.

“In a city where you can kill a man, claim his ghost and everything he owns, or sell him for a profit, murder tends to flourish. Araxes’ streets were dangerous after dark, patrolled not by lawmen or soldiers, but gangs and what the Arctians affectionately called soulstealers.”

Caltro, however, does not deal in the practice of taking souls against their will but, rather, deals in lockpicking. In fact, he is one of the best. He is a Krassman who has been hired by a mysterious client by a papyrus summons:

“Mr Basalt,
Your presence is requested at the Cloudpiercer concerning matters of employment.
Present this seal for admittance.
Etane.”

You can also probably guess what might befall our poor protagonist in the city of Araxes but he’s not the only person of concern in Chasing Graves. A princess is dealing with the trepidation of a king’s crumbling mental state amongst a restless counsel. A mysterious woman is dragging a body across a cruel, scorching desert towards Araxes’ Grand Nyxwell, a well that is used to either shepherd a soul into the afterlife or to transform it. An imposing man who is attempting to pull the strings of the city of Araxes to his benefit, rubbing elbows with a cult, as well as aristocracy. Even a hawk holds significance in Galley’s cast of riveting characters.

And these characters play key-roles throughout Chasing Graves, playing-off one another in surprisingly creative ways. When you think one character has no attachment to another, you’re proven wrong within a few chapters. Not to mention the key-roles of the secondary characters that Galley employs to support his cast of mains, such as a shade in service to the nobility or an old, but intelligently insidious hag named Widow Horix (whom I found really captivating and probably one of my favorite characters thus far). Galley does a wonderful job of bringing the personalities of each to life with colorful temperament, riveting dialogue and evenly paced scenes.

Yet, my only grievance is I would had liked a little more visual cues or descriptions that would had made these characters more animated. While one character did express an annoyance at not being able to lose weight or being able to balance an object on their girth, certain physical features should be employed more to finely hone-in on the full image of a specific character. I could recall a piece of clothing, or a particular mannerism, but not the entire physical image of a character I was reading without flipping-back through the book to read a brief mention of an eye color, or hair color. Still, this certainty did not draw me entirely out of the story. And, as I already mentioned, Galley made-up for this by the character’s lively dialogue and individual gesticulations. Not all characters suffered from this error, but one key character in particular definitely had me longing for a physical characteristic.

The action in Chasing Graves was done rather well, with fights taking place in gloomy back alleys to an expansive, sunbaked desert. But, Galley’s novel leans more in the direction of a suspenseful, politically driven plot than an action-packed one, where many characters attempt to arise to a higher level of power. All involve, either directly or indirectly, with the city’s wealth of souls. When action was introduced it was enough to sate the pallet, crank-up the pace to a quicker tempo, before moving back into the gradual build-up of an enticing narrative.

Besides action Galley’s descriptive prose is simplistically beautiful, particularly when it comes to evocative scenery, such as when he transforms a desert so that I could almost feel the oppressive and overpowering heat radiate off the page:

“The golden dunes rolled out an endless and featureless carpet beneath a sky of overpowering blue. An upside-down ocean, beckoning to be dived into yet unreachable, and in that way cruel and taunting.”

I also enjoyed how he both structuralized and culturized the shade; how a shade is created, freed, or destroyed, making Galley’s ghosts profusely plausible. It’s certainty captivating to navigate a study of shades co-existing alongside the living, to which Galley definitely took advantage of this by revealing a diversity of societal interactions of both high and low society. The living and the dead were often of a binary relationship (such as good/evil) while others were not binary but aligned with a common goal. To shades wishing to be free from their captors, another relishing in servitude and utilizing it to their advantage. Thus, I felt the ideology of what a shade is and how they function in the world Galley built was well executed and fleshed-out.

In the overall scheme of the novel one can almost certainty discern something greater was moving beneath the undercarriage of the main story, invoking a feeling of eager expectancy as I continued through the story. With the turning of the last page I was both left with a sense of satisfaction and anticipation for the next book. The first book definitely leaves one feeling their hunger half-satisfied with a thirsty curiosity of what’s to follow. Definitely one big question was answered, while another was left to hang loose till the next installment.

I’d recommend Chasing Graves to anyone that enjoys dark fantasy with elements of the undead and I look forward to Grim Solace, the next installment in the trilogy.

I would like to thank Ben Galley and Fantasy-Faction for handing me my first ARC copy for review. Thank you.

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