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Onslaught of Madness by Jesse Teller

Onslaught of Madness by Jesse Teller
4.25
Book Name: Onslaught of Madness
Author: Jesse Teller
Publisher(s): Self-Published
Formatt: Ebook
Genre(s): Epic Fantasy
Release Date: October 5, 2019

“I lead you now into peril.”

So says Peter Redfist to his brother-in-arms Aaron the Marked. Peter is ten years old and Aaron is thirteen, but they are not boys. They are men on a mission to save the nation of Tienne from Rextur Cherlot, aka Madness, the anointed general of a god bent on destruction.

Onslaught of Madness is the first book in The Madness Wars, and my first dip into the massively complex and ambitious work of Jesse Teller. Set in a world where gods are real and their epic struggle for dominion stretches over hundreds of thousands of years, the stories are comparable to Steven Erikson’s Malazan in scope and scale, and likewise could be classified as “high grimdark” fantasy. It’s a brutal world, peopled with complex, nuanced characters, each with their own unique stories who cross paths with each other and turn up where you least expect them. So far, Teller has published eight books set on the continent of Perilisc, with plans for dozens more scheduled for release every six months for the next nine years. Then Teller plans to release stories set on a different continent on the same world. If you’re a reader who loves following multiple, complex, crisscrossing, narratives that jump around in time and space—Teller’s work is for you.

But let’s focus on Onslaught, a novel about the invasion of an unstoppable army and the people who rise up against it. With prose that is often lyrically beautiful, Teller shows us the conflict from both sides, and the most compelling character is the invading general, Rextur. He is ruthless, merciless, and wholly dedicated to carrying out the will of Dis, a malevolent and destructive god who manifests as a giant bull. But Rextur is also an intelligent, honorable, and fair man who is disgusted by the capricious and short-sighted cruelty of the king he serves and who longs for genuine affection—not only to be loved, but to love in return. Here is a portrait of someone who could have been the good guy, had he a different upbringing. Instead, he was reared to command atrocities, and he’s very good at it. You can’t help but root for Rextur—root for him to be turned to the light side, or barring that, perhaps, just maybe, to succeed in his mission of conquest, because if he were killed, his replacement would be ever so much worse.

Rallying to Tienne’s defense are four very different heroes. The most conventional is the swordsman Sai Sibbius. Sai’s skill with the blade is as legendary as his search for a lover he meets in his dreams but whom he has never found in the waking world. Sai’s quest leads him back to his home city, which lies in the path of Rextur’s forces. Teaming up with another master swordsman, Sai decides to stay and help defend the city, but a scheming merchant and his magic-wielding servant have other ideas.

Vianne is a thirteen-year-old noblewoman and powerful sorceress known to her people as the Porcelain Witch. When Rextur’s assassins strike the nobility in the first wave of the invasion, Vianne survives but loses her parents and betrothed in the attack. In the space of a single chapter, that was as poignant as it was thrilling, grief and love transform a rather superficial girl into a woman deeply committed to protecting her people. I loved watching Vianne grow into her power as she fights for recognition and authority as a young woman in a man’s world and also contends with an evil wizard who wants to possess her.

Tera, another teenage girl, is an orphan chosen by Boxhead, the god of children and innocence, to rescue a special little girl from Rextur’s slavers. Tera is Rextur’s opposite in every way. He is a master of the art of war; she has no training in weapons or warfare. He rides a giant bull into battle; she rides a magical blue carousel horse. She’s in way over her head, although she does find some companions to help save the girl and face her biggest threat—her own self-doubt.

Also hampered by self-doubt, along with a big helping of self-loathing, is Aaron the Marked, companion of the boy king Peter Redfist. The specter of Aaron’s deceased father is alive and well in Aaron’s mind, and the ghost spews invective and threats, constantly urging Aaron to betray or kill Peter. Only Peter’s unflagging certainty in Aaron’s worth helps the young man grow into a hero over the course of the story.

Of the four protagonists who oppose Rextur, Vianne’s offered the strongest and most immediate hook, perhaps because her story seems to actually begin in this novel, while the others didn’t grab me until several chapters into their narratives. Teller is known for dropping readers into the middle of things and for dribbling in backstory on a need-to-know basis. I certainly like my worldbuilding to be filtered to me this way, but for characters I prefer a little more anchoring information. I found the opening of Sai’s storyline particularly confusing, and Teller confided this character appears in two previous stand-alone novels (Chaste and Mestlven, the latter of which ends as Onslaught begins). Sai has an immortal bard for a companion, who seems to exist merely to convey information. I appreciated the artful joke of the bard (whose job as a storyteller, narratively, figuratively, and literally, is to tell us what’s going on), but I found it hard to connect with him as a character and felt like he served only as plot device. Sai’s storyline also takes a twist that, while effective on an emotional level, didn’t advance the overall story and left me with too many unanswered questions.

The other protagonists, however, grew on me as their stories unfolded. Tera, who was initially the dullest of the group, eventually captured my enthusiasm and her story elicited as many tears and cheers as any of the others. Aaron and Peter’s storyline was almost as confusing as Sai’s in the beginning (the boys are all strangers to Tienne, and how and why they happened to be in country prior to Rextur’s arrival is unclear), and Aaron is an unsympathetic hard case when we first meet him. His arc, however, becomes as satisfying as Tera’s, as we see both characters realize their heroic potential.

Aaron’s story may also be a harbinger of things to come with Rextur and Peter, who I expect to form the core of the conflict as the series continues. While everyone else dismisses Peter as a boy playing at being a king, Rextur recognizes him as an equal. Meanwhile, Peter sees Rextur’s capacity for good, even while understanding his commitment to evil. I’m very curious to see how their psychological, and literal, cat and mouse game plays out over the course of the series.

All in all, Onslaught of Madness made me a fan of Jesse Teller, and I will gladly follow him into Perilisc.

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One Comment

  1. Avatar Richard Marpole says:

    Thanks for this review. Looks like a really interesting series!

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