Fear The Reaper
This is a disturbing novella, with a pervading sense of wrongness throughout its entire story, which only makes it more right by its end. Confused? So was I, to begin with, but, well, bear with me for a moment as I try and explain. The first time that I picked up this book (after winning it via the author’s Facebook page), I found that I couldn’t get past the first chapter, and I abandoned it. But it wasn’t because it was bad, or badly-written – I’ve read some poor fantasy in my time, and I always try and persevere. In fact, the first chapter is very well-written, as is the rest of the novella, but there was something off-putting about it; something I couldn’t put my finger on.
After a few days I decided to tackle the novella a second time, determined to read the entire thing, and this time I succeeded. However, it took me some time to realise why I had experienced such difficulty in getting into the story. And it’s because of the combination of the gothic-style of writing, which really compliments the excellent and detailed world-building that has taken place; and the fact that it doesn’t do any hand-holding. There are very few tropes in place that usually exist in fantasy tales – no initial explanatory backstory, no familiar locations (castles, rolling hills, royal courts, thinly-disguised analogues for medieval France or Venice) or characters whose motives are clear, at least to the reader.
Instead, the prologue throws you into a fight between a group of slavers and something only described as a ‘Voiceless One’; after killing the slavers, The Voiceless One allows a single slave, Shell, to escape after branding her, its motives for doing so entirely unclear. An unknown time later, a mentally and physically scarred Shell is working as a bartender in a village that is near a ‘border’, for want of a better word, with another plane of reality – the one that she escaped from in the prologue. Then an angel walks into the bar. Actually, not just an angel, but an Angel; a gigantic, vaguely-humanoid creature that gives her no choice but to come with it; the mark left on her by the Voiceless One allows it to be tracked, and the Angel wishes to find it. No real explanation is given, and no choice is allowed by the creature Shell names Ice, as it has no name or identity of its own.
This novella makes you work to understand its characters and the world that it is set in, and the author does a brilliant job in developing a world that is genuinely alien in nature – both to the reader and, arguably, also to the characters that inhabit it. There is an ethereal, dream-like nature to a lot of it, with a damaged, unfinished world that barely seems to be keeping its own reality together. That wrongness that I mentioned at the start of my review slowly creeps up on you as the author artfully weaves together a series of strands: the completely alien being known as Ice, a tremendously powerful, artificial being created by God – the God, there apparently being no other – that has no identity, no sense of self, no desire to do anything other than what it is bid; the concept of a distant, uncaring and (by the end of the novella) staggeringly arrogant and Machiavellian God; the damaged, warped world that these characters travel through, which the authors describes so brilliantly; and the well-written and rounded-out characters, especially Shell and – at the very end – the mysterious Voiceless One.
Even after some six hundred words of this review, I don’t feel that I can do this novella a true justice, or describe just how much I enjoyed it after forging ahead with reading it. The only way you can understand is to buy a copy yourself and dive in, preparing yourself for a journey unlike one you’ve ever had before.