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Shadow of a Dead God by Patrick Samphire – SPFBO #6 Semi-Finals Review

Shadow of a Dead God by Patrick Samphire – SPFBO #6 Semi-Finals Review
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Book Name: Shadow of a Dead God
Author: Patrick Samphire
Publisher(s): Self-Published
Formatt: Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: May 24, 2020

Among the coincidences of topics and titles in the sixth annual Self-Publishing Fantasy Blog-Off, Fantasy-Faction had not only four books with dragon in the title and five titles containing shadow, we also had three that played with noir tropes in a fantasy setting: Blood Under Water (reviewed here), Tales of the Thief-City (another semifinalist; reviewed here), and our third semi-finalist, Shadow of a Dead God (the second of our three shadow-y semi-finalists).

As previously explained, the order of our semi-finalist reviews does not indicate the book’s place in the final four. Our finalist will be announced on Friday, October 30th.

Shadow of a Dead God (cover)It was supposed to be one little job—a simple curse-breaking for Mennik Thorn to pay back a favour to his oldest friend. But then it all blew up in his face. Now he’s been framed for a murder he didn’t commit.

So how is a second-rate mage, broke, traumatized, and with a habit of annoying the wrong people, supposed to prove his innocence when everyone believes he’s guilty?

Mennik has no choice if he wants to get out of this: he is going to have to throw himself into the corrupt world of the city’s high mages, a world he fled years ago. Faced by supernatural beasts, the mage-killing Ash Guard, and a ruthless, unknown adversary, it’s going to take every trick Mennik can summon just to keep him and his friend alive. But a new, dark power is rising in Agatos, and all that stands in its way is one damaged mage.

Set in a Greco-Romanesque city-state where mages siphon magic from dying gods, Shadow of a Dead God centers on the misadventures of a down-on-his-luck mage named Mennik Thorn. Thorn has connections to the wealthy elite, but he has left a life of luxury to work for a pittance, helping the people he grew up with in the city’s slums. When a friend’s get-rich-quick scheme goes wrong, Mennik becomes the prime suspect in a horrific murder. The aging mage will have to hunt through the city’s underbelly and halls of power to find the real culprit and prove his innocence.

Our Thoughts

This was another book in our batch that mined a fresh and engaging story out of familiar tropes. Our judges were completely hooked by this page-turner of a mystery, set in a well-drawn world with fully fleshed characters. The characters especially won rave reviews. Supporting characters captured our affection; Mennik’s snarky humor and good heart won us over completely. It’s also a polished, well-balanced read, with plenty of humor to leaven the grisly murders, and all the tension and surprises one could wish for in a mystery. All in all, we loved rooting for Mennik through each twist and turn.

Alicia

I enjoyed this from the very first page. Our main character, Mennik “Nik” Thorn, is easy to empathise with—down but not completely out, struggling to make a living and carrying around a few old injuries—and his self-deprecating humour is enjoyable without being overdone. A touch info-dumpy at the start with respect to the setting and backstory, but each time I thought it was going to drop too far into that territory it pulled back. There’s a Greco-Roman feel to the world surrounding the city of Agatos, spanning all the way from glittering wealth and power to filth and crime in the slums.

I was fascinated by the magic system, with dead and rotting gods leaking raw magic into the atmosphere for mages to draw upon and manipulate. This, alongside the clean editing and easy prose, won me over. Genuine mystery is also a big draw card, with interesting and compelling characters (omg Sereh!). I constantly want to come back to find out what happens next. There are unexpected twists, slick reveals, and an undeniable build in tension as the story progresses.

Kartik

SoaDG is an entertaining fantasy-noir story with memorable characters. The main character—Mennik Thorn—is good-hearted, cynical, and has a dry wit. We have seen instances of this template before (with varying proportions of the heart, cynicism, and wit) in the likes of Harry Dresden, Captain Vimes, etc. Even knowing this, Mennik Thorn still manages to capture our imagination. The supporting characters like Sereh, Gale, and others also make their presence felt. I feel that these characters and their interactions are the strongest points of the book. Their interactions keep us interested.

The worldbuilding is decent. We have seen variations of these archetypes too—dead gods giving magic (D&D for example) and city states like Athens, Sparta, etc. But again, the author manages to give a fresh coat to these elements. The writing and pacing are also quite good. This book is a definite page turner and like so many of my fellow judges, I will be looking forward to reading future installments in this series.

Kerry

A very fun and enjoyable read, and even with this being one of the first books I read in the competition, there were some great memorable quotes that have stuck with me (especially a certain spell). I found Mennik a very relatable character, who has renounced wealth, power and familial protections to follow his beliefs. He grew up in an impoverished area and so remains living there to help his fellow poor and his closest childhood friend, Benny the Thief, and Benny’s incorrigible but crafty daughter Sereh. When their great intentions go awry, it give us some excellent comedic moments. The book is well written, well edited, polished piece of work with no obvious continuity issues and overall a very enjoyable read and I look forward to the sequel.

Lynn

Mennik is relatable and his snarky humor makes the book a fun and easy flowing read. This noir detective tale with magic at the fore has an intriguing side cast. It has good worldbuilding, and smoothly flowing prose which highlights the story arc quite well. The characterizations are well rounded and give you a good feel for each one’s uniqueness.

Total Score: 8.1

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Our judges are A. M. Justice, Alicia Wanstall-Burke, Amanda Cenker, Julia Kitvaria Sarene, Kartik Narayanan, Kerry Smith, Lynn Kempner, and Mariëlle Ooms-Voges. If you’d like to learn more about us, including our likes and dislikes, you can read about them here.

Any queries should be directed to A. M. Justice via DM (Facebook/Twitter).

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