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Infernal by Mark de Jager

Infernal by Mark de Jager
4.25
Book Name: Infernal
Author: Mark de Jager
Publisher(s): Del Rey (US) Random House (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: August 11, 2016 (UK)

A man called Stratus wakes up paralysed in the middle of nowhere. He has no memory of how he got there or of anything else, except his first name. Vultures are preparing to eat his unmoving body.

Stratus is ‘rescued’ by a group of soldiers, led by a Deacon who heals him with magic. His mind remains oddly blank and he has other strange characteristics. He’s very large and muscular for a human, his skin tone is different to those of the local peoples, he has very dense bones and a hidden, second set of extremely sharp teeth.

War and religious fanaticism menace this land; mysterious amnesiac strangers are not to be trusted. Stratus’ rescuers soon become his captors. That doesn’t go well for them.

Now on the run, with a wide array of powers, from night-vision and superhuman strength to burgeoning sorcery, Stratus goes in search of answers. Who is he? What happened to him? Is he really a demon? Why is eating people such a social faux pas?

Stratus is an interesting character, not so much an anti-hero as a force of nature. He isn’t malevolent, unless crossed. He is an almost textbook sociopath—wondering why the authorities feel the need to imprison him when all he did was slaughter a dozen guards in (mostly) self-defence, for the second time that week. He has few redeeming qualities, but the central mystery of his nature kept me invested. As did the wry, deadpan humour of the writing. Stratus is matter of fact, cerebral and clinical in his descriptions, explaining how and why he ripped a man’s arm off as calmly as he describes the pleasure of a new scent or a draught of unfamiliar wine. Mercy, honour, and fair play are all but meaningless to him. Friendship does start to grow on him as the novel progresses, but I’d still run a mile if I met him in real life.

For all that the novel’s only voice is Stratus’s formal tones, it’s well written and engaging. The plot takes in court intrigue, an invasion by a seemingly unstoppable enemy, ancient legends, intolerant priests and put-upon wizards.

D&D was a definite influence on de Jager’s worldbuilding. There’s a distinct and fundamental difference between wizards and sorcerers. There are magic-wielding priests and paladins, though the existence of actual gods remains rather more contentious. Necromancy is irredeemably evil. Mention is made of trolls and goblins, as I recall. Stratus and his allies even explore a dungeon of sorts at one point.

The book’s magic system isn’t revolutionary in the way that a Sanderson or Rothfuss system would be. But it’s well described and quite absorbing—magical energy flows through the world in Songlines and can be accessed and stored by those with the natural ability or training. It’s possible to get lost in the Songlines or blow yourself up by discharging magical energy the wrong way. Raw magical power isn’t necessarily as effective as efficient and unhurried casting. This does a good job of keeping magic-wielding characters powerful, while still giving them limits and allowing mundane opponents to get the drop on them. Also, points to de Jager for his necromancers’ original and vile method of creating undead minions.

There’s no shortage of brutal, cinematic action—rooftop chases, vicious brawls, magical duels, and stealthy massacres. Often, Stratus isn’t in much danger in these encounters; between his strength, toughness, enhanced healing, mind control and fire-summoning powers, he can handle most things. I wasn’t put off by that, it gave the novel that same sort of fun, power-fantasy feel you get from an action-focused video game or brutal martial arts film. No one expects a security guard to knock out Jason Statham, after all. Yes, we all know this cocky idiot has no idea who he’s messing with and his entrails are about to hit the ceiling, but there’s still a cruel pleasure in that moment of visceral revelation. Infernal is a ‘stranger in a strange land’ story where the stranger might just pull your head off and eat your brain to learn these quaint local customs you set so much store by.

All that said, Stratus does encounter enemies with magical weapons, wards and spells who absolutely can injure or disable him. He gets put through the wringer quite frequently and has to deal with the agonising fallout of all those encounters.

The novel ends with a reveal which was been pretty well telegraphed up to that point, but still manages to satisfy. Plenty of questions remain unanswered though and I look forward to seeing where Stratus’s rampage– I mean journey takes him next.

If you like David Gemmell, Robert E. Howard, or Joe Abercrombie in his pulpier moods, this book will definitely entertain you. It’s high-powered, rip-roaring, scenery-smashing, heroic action-fantasy with a protagonist who can crush skulls with one hand and weave spells with the other, while on fire.

I received a physical copy of this book in return for an honest review.

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One Comment

  1. Avatar Lucas says:

    I loved this one. Thanks for the review guys.

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