I judge books by their cover all the time. As was the case at LTUE this year when I saw someone carrying a hardback copy of Servant of a Dark God. The cover just looked great, and well I happened to be sitting in a presentation by the author, of whom I had never heard. John Brown was funny, but he didn’t strike me as thoughtful as many of the authors who presented at LTUE. I did not expect his book to be as good as it was.
Brown crafts a solid political fantasy with a good antagonist triangle. There are good guys, bad guys, bad guys, good bad guys and bad good guys. The beast that is roaming the countryside is wonderfully conflicted, he is the servant of the dark god, but also a confluence of the souls of goodly folk. At times he rails against the evil that he serves and at others he follows it with doglike loyalty. The idea of the monster becoming in part the people which he destroys gives the story its uniqueness. Brown does political twists very well in the book. The idea that crystalizes about the Divines and that which they serve is stunning.
I enjoyed many of the characters. Talen is supposed to be the protagonist, but it was fairly clear to me that Argoth was driving the book from the beginning. Argoth is a character so well developed that I found myself waiting to read another of his point of views, Argoth’s scenes drive the action and further the plot and the hints of his true story are tantalizing. Hunger is a close second, the monster that is not even alive is the most dynamic character in the story as he shifts and changes with each new soul.
I really enjoyed the status of the world. An abandoned people in flux, clinging to the last hope for survival, cut off from those who are supposed to protect them. It is clear from early on that this is a land on a precipice. but no matter how much danger they face from the invading bone face hoards they cannot unite as a people, and instead their continues clan oppression, hatred and mistrust. This is the backdrop for Servant of a Dark God, and it works very well.
The first hundred pages of the book was a bit confusing. Brown’s world building in the early chapters of the book is solid, but it often feels as if he is starting in the middle. He writes about several features of the world without first providing proper context. While it comes out later in the book, it can leave the reader scratching his head early on in the book. I also had a few problems with the scale of the world. Sometimes places were described as closer or farther than they had been previously. The towns at times seemed hours apart, and later only a few minutes. This is exasperated by the modes of travel, someone walking can reach something as fast in the story as those riding. Originally the home of a friend is described as “across the creek” but later it takes a whole night and part of a day to reach, the travel includes crossing 2 creeks and a river.
There is so much room for this series to grow and evolve. I am eagerly awaiting the release of a second book, I cannot wait to see where Brown takes his tale. This is a book I highly recommend.