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The Gods of Men by Barbara Kloss – SPFBO #4 Finals Review

The Gods of Men by Barbara Kloss – SPFBO #4 Finals Review
4
Book Name: The Gods of Men
Author: Barbara Kloss
Publisher(s): Self-Published
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: May 18, 2018

*Disclaimer*

Writing and reading is a subjective art. What some folks will absolutely love, others will dislike. It is a bit like Marmite in the UK—normal people dislike it intensely, but some weird folks actually enjoy the taste of warm road surface and fresh roadkill upon their tongue. To each their own, I suppose.

The Gods of Men is the seventh of the finalists which we are reviewing. We’ve nine books to read and review, chosen by blogs all over the fantasy-sphere and each with their own idiosyncratic taste in fiction. We’re reading them, noting our thoughts, and scoring them. We’ll take an average of individual judges scores as our final rating.

Summary

Sable hated the gods. She hated what men did in their name. 

Magic is forbidden throughout the Five Provinces; those born with it are hunted and killed. Sable doesn’t know her music holds power over souls—not until, at age nine, she plays her flute before the desert court and accidentally stops her baby sister’s heart, killing her. Horrified by what she’s done and fearing for her life, she flees north, out of Provincial jurisdiction and into the frigid land of exiles and thieves, known as The Wilds. There, Sable lives in hiding, burdened by guilt, and survives as a healer. But now, ten years later, someone—or something—is hunting her.

On the run again, Sable’s best chance for survival is Jos, a lethal man from the Five Provinces, who claims to need her skills as a healer to save his dying father, and she needs the large sum of money he’s offered. There’s something about him Sable doesn’t trust, but she doesn’t have many options. A spirit of the dead is hunting her, summoned by a mysterious necromancer, and it’s getting closer.

Sable soon discovers she’s just the start of the necromancer’s plan to take over the Five Provinces, and she’s the only one with the power to stop it. But harnessing her forbidden power means revealing it to the world, and the dangerous Provincial, Jos, she’s beginning to fall for.

Thoughts

This book inspires a lot to be said about it, both good and bad. Without a doubt it has distinguished itself as the traditional fantasy to beat in the competition. In a market full of grim, morally ambiguous and boundary-pushing fantasy it’s easy to forget how the traditional fantasy elements first made us fall in love with the genre, and it’s always pleasant to be reminded by a book that wields them well. The Gods of Men does just that.

Perhaps The Gods of Men’s weakest quality is its first impression. The judges’ impressions of the first fourth of the book ranged from it feeling like bland, “standard fantasy” to one judge noting that the plot has virtually no forward momentum until a quarter of the way in. From the beginning it felt like it was destined to fall into the middle of the pack of finalists, but then something happened that can only be attributed to Barbara Kloss’s talent as a writer muscling its way through: It gets better and better, and leaves the reader satisfied and charmed, and ready for more.

The biggest strength is its characters. They stick to roles we’ve all read before, and don’t really break any new ground in terms of grey area. But what sets them apart is the skill with which Kloss writes them. The main character, Sable, is a bit of a smartass, but it’s never overdone, and she always stays balanced and true to her character. Jeric, the male ingénue, is talented, competent, likeable, and often finds himself refreshingly and believably in need of saving by Sable. The villains are appropriately epic and deceitful. While none of the characters really exhibit that delightful moral ambiguity we touched on above, all the judges ended up agreeing they are fleshed out enough to be satisfying. The romance is well balanced as well and doesn’t bog down the plot. Once the characters’ agency begins to move the story along it keeps going to a satisfying conclusion.

Worldbuilding comes in close second for our judges’ favorite part of this book. Nothing about it was stereotypical. The monsters in particular were an intriguing plague that caused the inhabitants of the world to live in terror of leaving their town, which lent the book excellent early tension and mystery.

The judges would have liked to give The Gods of Men a higher rating were it not for a few sloppy mistakes that held it back from really competing with the top two. There were multiple little gaffes and typos. The reveal at the end felt a bit rushed, while others were slow, so the whole book could benefit from an adjustment of pace.

At several points the narrative repeats information as it follows from character to character. One judge noted that it needs more narrative sentences along the lines of, “CHARACTER A told CHARACTER B about X,” to prevent these repetitive dialogs from further bogging down the pace. Despite ale typically having a very low alcohol content (5%-10% being the norm), it’s used in this story as both a topical antiseptic and high explosive. There’s a weird moment at the end where someone shows up from a two-week journey after having been sent for only two weeks prior, with no explanation for the lightning quick communication.

These glitches were all things that would have been easily fixable with one good, skillful editing pass, and while they were not enough to spoil the judges’ enjoyment of the story, the other two of our top three favorites did not suffer from similar sloppy mistakes. Still, while it was perhaps not as competitive as it should have been, the book is a wonderful traditional fantasy that left the judges looking forward to reading the sequel. We want, nay, need Barbara Kloss to keep writing.

– – –

And with that we say goodbye to The Gods of Men by Barbara Kloss. The end is close! We have two more books to go, and Ruthless Magic by Megan Crewe is still our book to beat, by only half a point! You can see our scores below and visit Mark Lawrence’s website for the total scores from all participating sites.

  • Aching God by Mike Shel = 6
  • The Anointed by Keith Ward = 3
  • The Gods of Men by Barbara Kloss = 8
  • Orconomics: A Satire by J. Zachary Pike
  • Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc = 4
  • Ruthless Magic by Megan Crewe = 8.5
  • Sowing by Angie Grigaliunas = 4
  • Sworn to the Night by Craig Schaefer = 6
  • Symphony of the Wind by Steven McKinnon = 6
  • We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson

Again, it is important to note that these are just the judges’ opinions on the samples we read. Others may view the books differently, that’s what makes writing and reading so much fun (and so infuriating). Keep an eye out for the next review!

Our judges are: G R Matthews, Julia Sarene, David Zampa, Jessica Juby, Rachel McCoy, Rakib Khan, and J C Kang. You can read more about each of them here.

Any queries should be directed to G R Matthews, via DM (Facebook/Twitter) or via the Fantasy-Faction website.

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