The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman / *****

Screenshot 2017-12-06 09.41.45I first read The Golden Compass (known originally in Great Britain as Northern Lights, but retitled for its American release) in college, for a course in children’s and adolescent literature, and I was immediately swept up into Philip Pullman’s incredible, imaginative, astonishing world. I didn’t know anything about the series – not the controversy that it had attracted, not Pullman’s goal of making a children’s series that served as a response to C.S. Lewis’s allegorical Narnia novels, not even how many books the series would be. All I knew is that I loved this world, these characters, and the imagination on display, and before I had even finished the novel, I rushed out to the bookstore and bought the concluding two volumes in the series (wonderfully, I was assigned the book right after the long wait for volume three finally ended).

Now, with the release of a new book in this world (The Book of Dust, which I’m beyond excited to read), I decided to revisit Pullman’s trilogy, to see if it held up as well as I remember, and to focus as much on the craft and themes this time as I did the story on my first readthrough. And here’s the good news: The Golden Compass is even better than I remember, telling its original, unpredictable story with style and grace, creating a book that’s undoubtedly for young audiences without ever being condescending, and yet packed with enough nuance and thought to be satisfying for any adult reader. (In some ways, it’s the original Pixar film that way.) It’s exciting, funny, graceful, thoughtful, original, and just a pure blast to read.

To try to explain the plot is complicated, not least because so much depends on this intricate world that Pullman has built, where the Church reigns over most of the civilized world, where technology has a somewhat steampunk feel, and most strikingly, where all humans are constantly accompanied by their “daemons” – spirit animals, for lack of a better term, but ones that serve as an extension/embodiment of their souls. When you’re a child, your daemon shifts and flits between moods; as you grow and mature, it settles into a given shape that says much about you. And while that seems like a simple enough conceit, Pullman packs it with metaphorical richness, from the way it gives windows into characters we don’t fully know the truth of to the way it becomes a metaphor for aging and maturity – one of the key themes of the book.

Indeed, at its heart, The Golden Compass – and the entire His Dark Materials trilogy – is about growing up and maturing, and the accompanying changes that come with that. The series is primarily driven around the quest to understand Dust, an elementary atomic particle that seems to change its behavior based off of the age and maturity of a child. And while the exact nature of what Dust is – or, at least, what it may be – only becomes clear as the book continues, it becomes understandable very quickly that this ranges into theological territory, with questions of sin, evil, and the “knowledge of good and evil” coming into play. Which brings us to the deeper question: how do you keep children safe from the corrupting influence of sin? More importantly, should you?

If that sounds heavy, it should; Pullman’s trilogy is engaged in nothing less than theological debate, first as subtext, and then by text. And yet, while the content is evidently there from the early going, nothing in The Golden Compass ever makes the book feel preachy or bludgeoning; instead, what you get is an astonishing adventure, as our heroine Lyra – a scrappy, determined, outspoken young girl who grows up as the adopted child of Oxford University, more or less – goes in quest of her uncle. Along the way, Pullman brings in witches, aeronauts, a compass that taps into Dust to understand the reality of the world, and most memorably, polar bears, who live in an honor-bound society where their armor and battle is as much a part of them as Lyra’s daemon is.

That all of this happens in less than 300 pages shouldn’t work; that so much depends on us buying into Pullman’s world and understanding its taboos and the importance of daemons, even less so. And yet, miraculously, it does, thanks in no small part to Pullman’s rich prose, which plunges us so deeply into Lyra’s view that it’s hard not to get swept up into it. Nor does it hurt that Pullman’s imagination is so rich, and his pacing so fast; The Golden Compass absolutely moves, never shirking its characters, but never letting time pass without some new wonder, some thoughtful discussion, some incredible sequence. It’s one of the richest, most compelling fantasy settings around, and a forerunner for so much of the YA that’s become so popular in the wake of Harry Potter and Twilight.

The thing is, though? It’s almost definitely better than most of that YA, up to and including even chunks of Potter. (Blasphemy, I know. But read The Golden Compass and then come tell me it’s not better than, say, Chamber of Secrets). If you’ve never read it, you’re going to be blown away by it, I promise you; jump in and understand why this series captivates so many, and why it resonates so many years later.


The Chains of War, by Dean F. Wilson / **** ½

23001356It’s almost become a fun trope of fantasy novels to see how many of them feature a dense and absurd glossary of terms in the back of them. For a long time, it was almost a requirement of the genre (I constantly used them as I read Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, for instance), but they’ve fallen by the wayside over the years. And while generally I’m fine with that, there have definitely been times as I’ve read Dean F. Wilson’s epic fantasy trilogy series The Children of Telm that I could have used one. With its dense style, its huge cast of characters, and its epic scope, it’s easy to lose one’s way for a bit in Wilson’s world, or to fear that you may be missing out on some of the details.

But what makes The Children of Telm so great – and in particular, what makes The Chains of War, the final book in the series – is that not only did I follow every page of the book even without remembering every detail, but that I found myself wanting to read the entire series over again, to see how Wilson had been writing these details from the beginning and how much of the world and the story’s arc had been foreshadowed since the beginning. Wilson is playing with any number of tropes of the genre – an ancient evil released from its bonds, the gods reincarnating themselves in mortal bodies, the armies of the dead amassing, a love of the natural world that may lend itself to certain powers – and yet, The Chains of War (and the series as a whole) never feels like anything other than itself, and the characters become wholly their own. Yes, they may have started as archetypes, but they become something far more compelling and unique as the series has continued, with moral debts, shades of complexity, guilt that hangs over them, and a difficulty grappling with their own powers.

In many ways, as much as I loved Wilson’s Great Iron War series, it feels like The Children of Telm may be his greater accomplishment, in no small part because of how far Wilson pushes his writing. Consciously mimicking the formal, “ancient” diction of Tolkien and other high fantasy writers, Wilson lets his words carry some of the weight of his world-building, turning this story into a chronicle of something larger and more ambitious. That he does this while still letting the characters live and breathe, while still bringing out ambiguities and nuances, while still surprising with plot points – that’s no small feat.

Look, The Chains of War is hard to describe – it’s the final book in a fantasy series, and builds on what’s come before it. To talk about what happens in here would ruin some of the joy of the rest of this series, or of the surprises to come in its pages – the sudden realization of what’s causing the ancient evil to be unleashed, the slow dawning of how our heroes can fulfill the prophecies, the cost of the battles, and a perfect epilogue that not only concludes the story, but also gives us closure on the characters. But it manages that difficult feat of concluding a fantasy series in a satisfying way that feels both appropriate and surprising, delivering an exciting story that ends the series but doesn’t feel like it’s just the formula playing out. It’s a great read from an author whose quiet, assured talent has been pleasing me for book after book, and really pays off so well here. In short, if you like high fantasy? You owe this one a read. Just, you know, maybe read them all back to back, and don’t wait months like I did.


Reincarnation Blues, by Michael Poore / *****

51hmlljnwil-_sx327_bo1204203200_A good portion of the books I read are review copies, and while I’ve come to enjoy the chaos and unpredictability of reading books where I have zero expectations, there are definitely times where I’ve considered giving it up. (Why, yes, these times often correspond with long streaks of bad books – how did you know?) All of which goes to say, the joy of reviewing is that sometimes you get a book like Reincarnation Blues that can completely blindside you, coming out of nowhere and blowing you away with its imagination, humor, style, and richness.

Trying to describe Reincarnation Blues is a bit of a rough task; the best I can do is to say that it combines the millennia-spanning reincarnated souls of Cloud Atlas with the untraditional but rich love story of The Time Traveler’s Wife, with a rich sprinkling of humor that’s oh so welcome. But even that description doesn’t really do the book justice – it doesn’t convey the richness of the storytelling, the quiet silliness, and most of all, the pure warmth of the whole experience.

Reincarnation Blues is the story of a soul named Milo, who’s among the oldest souls in the universe – he’s been reincarnated nearly 10,000 times. That’s given Milo an incredible amount of experience and learning, with lives lived in the ancient past, the distant future, and everywhere in between. But Milo’s favorite parts of existence are the parts in between his lives, where he gets the chance to reunite with the love of his “life”: Suzie…also known as Death. And once you add to that the impending threat of oblivion – because any soul that hasn’t achieved enlightenment by incarnation #10,000 doesn’t get another chance – and there’s a lot of pressure on Milo to figure some things out.

And yet, Reincarnation Blues never feels like a high pressure book. Yes, there’s this deadline looming, and yes, there’s this complicated idea of having a romance with the incarnation of Death, but Reincarnation Blues remains focused, both in plot and thematic terms, on the nature of the human experience – on learning to be kind, on listening to other people, on trying to accept the universe for what it is. It’s a book that’s never really about all of Milo’s lives, despite the way it weaves in and out all of them, giving us scenes of combat, of peace, of future science, of primitive tribes, and every possible combination of all of those. It’s about what Milo did and learned in those lives, and the experiences that shaped him into the person he is.

And yet, there’s no denying that Poore’s incredible imagination gives the book a life that’s undeniable, and maybe all the more effective for how he backgrounds it throughout. More than that, the way he weaves all of Milo’s lives into one complex history – with actions in one life being referenced in another – give the sense of a complex mythology behind the book, a carefully planned out reality that we only get glimpses of. Add to that his quietly funny, sometimes silly writing style, and you have a book that succeeds in no small part to the authorial craft on display in every page.

But more than the imagination, more than the humor, what really made Reincarnation Blues work for me was the warmth of the whole novel. This is a book where the stakes revolve around finding a successful relationship and achieving some sort of internal peace and calm with the universe. And to that end, for all of the drama, for all of the stakes in each individual life that Milo leads, the book is more about connecting to other people, about learning the importance of how we relate to each other and the legacies we leave behind. That’s a great message to receive, but also a rich one, one that’s so welcome in days where we feel constantly pushed against each other. And it’s the thing that really sold me on this book – that, and the great writing, and the rich imagination, and the wonderful characters, and the great humor…well, maybe I just loved all of it, and loved it so much.


The Black Witch, by Laurie Forest / *** ½

81w1vtfpdulLike a lot of people, I bet, I was first alerted to the existence of Laurie Forest’s debut novel The Black Witch by an article in Vulture entitled “The Toxic Drama on YA Twitter.” The article told the story of how this novel had faced a massive backlash even before its publication, all resulting from an early review accusing the book of being “the most dangerous, offensive book I have ever read.” The reviewer spent almost 10,000 words excoriating the book for its bigotry and racial views, singling out passage after passage of hateful speech and racially loaded language. From there, the backlash doubled down, resulting in no small amount of trouble for this book, but largely one that was echoed by people going off of this review without reading the book – which, of course, led to a backlash to that backlash, with people rising to defend the book. And so, naturally, I decided that I wanted to read the book for myself, to see where it fell. The answer, unsurprisingly, is somewhere in the middle; this is a book with noble intention, some compelling themes, and an uplifting goal, but an execution that leaves a lot to be desired.

The problem, of course, is that the debate around The Black Witch is mainly about whether or not the book is racist. Every single one of the quotes and excerpts presented by that angry reviewer are correct; there’s no misquoting, no made up material. What’s left out is context, and that matters a great deal – that every one of the characters that says these horrible comments are largely intended to be the villains of the novel, and even when our heroine says these same comments, it is because she knows no better. At its core, The Black Witch is about Elloren Gardner, a young woman who has been raised in a society that sees itself as the superior race in the society – one that talks down to all others, sees other cultures as subservient to them, demands racial purity, and expects the other countries and races to fall into line behind them. But once she goes to college and begins to meet people outside of her small, insular people, she realizes that she’s been lied to – that the things she has assumed all of her life, the things she has believed, are far from true.

What results, then – and this is, in no small way, the best aspect of The Black Witch – is the story of a young woman learning the error of her ways and coming to terms with her own flawed assumptions and beliefs. The Black Witch uses hateful language and loaded terms, no doubt, but it does so in service of a larger goal – to show that hateful beliefs and racial hatred can be unlearned, but only through difficulty. That’s not an unnoble goal, by any means, and I like that the book doesn’t make it an easy shift – it’s a gradual process, one that comes and goes, and doesn’t happen all at once. Even more to the point, I like the fact that the book makes no secret of the hatred she receives from other races, nor makes her more sympathetic unnecessarily; our heroine is a deeply person, but by setting her discrimination in a fantasy world, we’re left wondering if the disgusting rhetoric out of her mouth is factual or simply twisted beliefs.

That’s to the book’s credit, I believe, as is the point that it doesn’t shy away from troubling language in Elloren’s matriarch or some of the other characters. Yes, the book is giving us this language, these beliefs – but we’re not supposed to agree with them. To feel that way would be akin to feeling like we were supposed to side with the Ewells in To Kill a Mockingbird, or hearing Nazi propaganda in World War II novels and feeling that it was factual. And yet, I can’t entirely fault the original reviewer’s reaction – there’s little denying that I went into this book aware that it was intended as a “learning/redemption” story, and that if I didn’t know that was coming, I, too, might turn on the book quickly. It’s a case where you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t; if the book doesn’t make Elloren and her family hateful, it’s not honest to the issue, but by not tipping its hand before we realize the fallacies the book is unraveling, it runs the risk of seeming worse than it is.

But here’s the thing: all of that is well and good, but the bigger issue is, The Black Witch is only okay, themes and all. To call the plotting “loose” would be generous; the book barely hangs together as a story, just sort of drifting through its scenario and hoping that the character development is enough to anchor our interest. And it might be, if every character weren’t so annoyingly one note, from the popular girl at school to the “evil” roommate (who of course turns out to be misunderstood). Author Laurie Forest is going for something admirable, but none of the characters really comes to life beyond a single personality trait, and the way they’re all gradually paired off into romantic couplings is less engaging and more eye-rolling. That, however, is better than Forest’s habit in the back half of the book of random flashbacks to major events in an effort to make the story feel more remembered and told. It’s a strange pacing choice that never pays off, and doesn’t help with the already shaggy, loose nature of the book. And, of course, this has to the first book in a series, and so we are barely beginning to get into the story when the book ends on a deeply unsatisfying conclusion, one that’s less a cliff-hanger and more of a “I’ve hit my page count”.

And yet, I really like the theme of The Black Witch, and admire what it’s going for – there’s something compelling about unflinchingly looking at how hard it can be to question what you’ve been taught, and the importance of trusting your own experience, and the voices of others, rather than what you are told by “authority”. (My favorite aspect of this comes as Elloren learns that the best way to truly learn history is to read accounts from every group involved, and embrace the complexities that arise when they conclude.) No, the book itself isn’t that great, but there’s a rich idea there, and a goal that I enjoyed – and something that’s worth reading it on its own terms, to understand that what it’s depicting is the very thing it’s condemning.


Song of Susannah, by Stephen King / ****

This is the sixth full entry in my re-read of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, following my reviews of The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the ThreeThe Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass, and Wolves of the Calla (with a side stop into “The Little Sisters of Eluria”). As a reminder, I’ll be reviewing the book on its own terms in the review; after the review concludes, I will be discussing the book’s connections to the rest of the series to come in the section entitled “All Things Serve the Beam.”

Also, this time I’m going to have a special book-only spoiler section called “The Clearing at the End of the Path,” because there’s one aspect of this book that I wanted to discuss at length, but didn’t want to spoil for people who hadn’t yet read the book. (If you’ve read it, you probably know what it is.)


As I approached Song of Susannah in this re-read, I’m not going to lie; I was a bit anxious. Over the years, Song of Susannah has been held up as the nadir of the series – a mess, the point at which the meta commentary became too much, the book where King’s ambition stretched too far. And in some ways, I’ll grant some of those points. There’s no denying that Song of Susannah sometimes feels like too many books in one, nor that it feels…well, weird. And that’s saying something, given how strange this series is already, and how disjointed the books are almost by design. But more than most, Song of Susannah swings for the fences, going between the surreal to the action-packed, from the nightmarish to the esoteric, often without even a hint of a change coming. And that doesn’t even get into the main thrust of the narrative, which somehow has to explain a truly baffling pregnancy that…well, I can’t even begin to explain this one to you, because King doesn’t quite either, despite the number of pages he devotes to trying to hash it all out.

And yet. (Come on. You knew an “and yet” was coming.)

And yet, by god, broken down to its individual pieces, Song of Susannah WORKS. There’s no denying that King’s ambition cranks up dozens of notches here (and I’ll have lots to say about the major one – and the most controversial one – in a book spoiler section below, before I get to series spoilers), but it’s easy to forget how much King has a way of making even the most bizarre and dysfunctional concepts somehow work when you’re lost in his worlds. On paper, most of Song of Susannah shouldn’t work, but as we immerse ourselves into the heart and soul of these characters, and King brings his worlds to vivid, intense life, it’s hard to remember your complaints while you’re carried along.

More than that, Song of Susannah has some truly great scenes waiting for you, most notably a climactic section that may rank as one of the most disturbing, horrific things King’s ever written – no small feat, that. But it makes sense, because King’s horror usually has at least one foot in the real world, one foot keeping things grounded. But in the world of the Dark Tower, all bets are off – there’s no reality to keep it tethered. And what results is genuinely horrifying and disturbing, with some of the darkest, grimmest images I can remember King writing – an ending (setting aside the coda, which I’ll address in those book spoilers) that leaves you dying for more in a great way. More than that, even with the weird, sometimes disjointed approach that finds us sometimes leaping from scene to scene, King retains that command of momentum and pacing that makes him one of the best writers around – and that goes double here, as King barrels us toward the ending of this series.

But maybe what I really love most about Song of Susannah is the way that it makes King’s ambition for this series plain, crystallizing something that’s been a theme for some time. Song of Susannah, in other words, is the book where it becomes most clear that in many ways, this is King’s most ambitious and career-defining work, in his own mind, and that the book is as much as about him as an author as it is these characters. It’s something that’s been a part of the series since the beginning (if you remember, it’s one reason why I advocate for the original cut of The Gunslinger, because it makes King’s evolution as a writer part of the text of the series), and even more so over the past few, as the ideas of story and storytelling has become more and more intrinsic to the plot of the series as a whole. The idea of stories – why we tell them, how they inspire or define us, how they motivate us – is only more and more relevant as the Tower series progresses, and Song of Susannah starts turning that from subtext to text, as characters grapple with their roles in stories that they had no idea they were a part of.

Does Song of Susannah spend alternately too long on some explanations (Mia/Susannah, I’m looking at you) and not enough on others (how Susannah knows the importance of a street preacher, for instance)? Undoubtedly. Does it suffer from “middle book” syndrome a bit, bridging between the setup of Wolves of the Calla and the payoff of The Dark Tower without sometimes knowing how to define itself? Most definitely. And is there a bit of me that resents spending so much time in this penultimate book of a great series on one of its weirdest, most nonsensical plot threads, to say nothing of the fact that most of it is devoted to maybe my least favorite member of the ka-tet? (Again, I’ll get into why in the spoiler section below.) Yup.

But for all of that, so many of the individual pieces of Song of Susannah work so well that I can overlook that. Any book that features that horrific sequence in the Dixie Pig, the fantastic shoot-out, that eerie scene where they meet a sort of god, and our first glimpses at what lays in the blasted lands near the Tower…when your book has all of that and more, I’m okay with the weaknesses, especially because all of them work so well thematically, and they’re so well told. And more than anything, when a book leaves me this ready to jump into the final volume, even after I’ve already read it…well, it’s doing its job, isn’t it?


The Clearing at the End of the Path (book spoilers follow – no series spoilers) Continue reading “Song of Susannah, by Stephen King / ****”

The Waste Lands, by Stephen King / *****

This is the third entry in my re-read of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, following my reviews of The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three. As a reminder, I’ll be reviewing the book on its own terms in the review; after the review concludes, I will be discussing the book’s connections to the rest of the series to come in the section entitled “All Things Serve the Beam.”


In a lot of ways, I’m glad The Waste Lands was already out when I started reading The Dark Tower. Yes, the strange, alien nature of The Gunslinger is intriguing, and yes, The Drawing of the Three immerses us into its cast of characters incredibly well. But for my money, it’s really here, in the third volume of the series, that it feels like the quest for the Tower truly begins. The players have assembled; the ka-tet is formed; and now, the march to the Tower truly begins in earnest.

That makes it sound as though nothing has really happened in the past two books, and that’s not the case at all; it’s just that the first two books are largely about immersing us in this world and letting us get to know our cast of heroes (maybe “protagonists” is a better term). But in The Waste Lands, we finally begin moving along the path of the Beam, and we begin to see what’s left of Roland’s world – and what he means when he says that it’s “moved on”.

The Waste Lands, more than either of the previous two novels, taps into King’s strengths as a horror writer, whether in a harrowing sequence set in a malevolent house or introducing us to a machine that’s lost its mind somewhere in the past centuries. The book absolutely pulses with unease and tension, pushing our heroes more closely together and making the threats more palpable. In The Gunslinger, we felt that Roland could pretty well take care of himself, and we had few worries. But now, there are bonds of friendship and love, and even Roland has been wounded by this world – and we’re early on. King uses that tension and unease masterfully, forcing our heroes to fight for their survival and become active participants in this quest and the fight to survive this mad, broken world that they find themselves in.

More than that, though, The Waste Lands is King’s best effort at world-building to date in the series. It’s the first time we get a sense of what this world is truly like, with discussions of some of its mythology, people reacting to the sight of the last gunslinger with awe and unease, and a sense of some of what’s happened to this world since its peak. We see huddled colonies of elderly, marauding gangs of bandits, and desolate, horrifying wastes warped by some unimaginable conflict. It’s the book that truly began to build what I think of as The Dark Tower for me, and in many ways, it’s the one that made me truly love the series.

But it’s also the first book in which King starts to build the complex cosmology and mythology of the Tower, establishing not only the links to “our” world in more explicit ways, but introducing some of the threats that are pursuing Roland on behalf of darker forces. It’s here that we learn the importance of the Rose, or start realizing who the Ageless Stranger may be, or realize just how important this quest is going to be.

Mind you, The Waste Lands does all this while telling an exciting, rocket-paced story. The first half largely revolves around the completion of the ka-tet and the rescue of a lost friend; the second finds the group moving along the path of the Beam into the broken city of Lud and into the Wastes beyond. There’s a lot that happens here, and it’s a welcome reminder of how well King writes action/suspense pieces, especially as he cuts back and forth between different parties, using their perspectives off of each other masterfully and leaving us in doubt sometimes about the accuracy of their beliefs. The Lud section especially is absolutely fantastic, giving a sense of dread and insanity that leaves you uneasy for chapters at a time, even before you meet the chief villains of this place.

And of course, no discussion of the book would be complete without mentioning the introduction here of Blaine the Mono, one of my favorite characters of the series – the mad train whose insanity and malice makes him instantly horrifying, even without a true physical presence in the book. That King uses Blaine to set up the infamous cliffhanger at the end of the book works only because Blaine has instantly solidified himself as a threat, both mentally and physically, to our characters; the fact that the cliffhanger is so maddening is even better, even though I would have disagreed with it while I was waiting for the next volume.

In short, it’s one of my favorite entries in the series – it’s exciting, engrossing, moves the story along, and deepens both the world and the mythology of the series. And more than anything else, it’s the one that truly hooked me into the world of the Dark Tower.


“All Things Serve the Beam” (series spoilers follow)

Continue reading “The Waste Lands, by Stephen King / *****”

The Road to Rebirth, by Dean F. Wilson / **** ½

20601427The Road to Rebirth is the second entry in Dean F. Wilson’s Children of Telm trilogy, after The Call of Agon; in fact, not only that, but it opens less than an hour after the previous book ends. And given that Wilson doesn’t really offer a summary of the previous book or any kind of glossary/list of characters, I definitely spent the first couple of chapters trying to remember who was who and where exactly we left things. (I feel like that’s a peril of high fantasy, especially when you have a dense cast of characters and lore like Wilson has created here.) Luckily, though, Wilson’s naturally gift for storytelling allowed me to follow everything that was happening in this second book while slowly reminding myself of the stakes and our characters.

If The Call of Agon was Wilson’s Fellowship of the Ring, with the characters uniting and defining the nature of their threat, then The Road to Rebirth could easily be his Two Towers. His group of heroes has suffered a massive setback, and they’ve scattered to the winds. Some have fallen in their battles; some are greviously wounded; and worst of all, their one possibility for victory – a child who was the incarnation of a god – has died. It’s classic “middle book” fare, as the quest evolves and we expand the scope.

But as usual, Wilson does it in an imaginative, unique way, expanding his story in directions that I never expected. A wounded hero returns home to a kingdom where he never belonged. One character finds himself amongst heroes he only knows from legend. And most surprisingly, we dive into the land of the dead, where the rise of the demon Agon is most imminent. On every front, Wilson expands the lore and depth of his world, fleshing out new gods, new legends, and new complexities.

But the primary story of the book revolves around a desperate attempt to revive the dead god, as a cluster of forces for good huddle in a besieged fortress and try to hold the line. It’s here that Wilson’s knack for action sequences shines through as usual, giving us a chaotic, tense siege where the stakes are always clear and the cost is always known. Battle sequences of this scale are a strength of Wilson’s (see his Great Iron War series), but it’s still nice to see him use those skills in his high fantasy mode and not miss a beat.

While I enjoyed The Call of Agon, there’s little denying for me that The Road to Rebirth is by far the superior entry in the series. Yes, part of that is due to not having to set the stage and offer the exposition necessary for a series like this. But more than that, Wilson’s interweaving of plot threads, plus the central drive, gives the story a quick, solid momentum that I loved. And even better, the story is allowing the themes of this saga – responsibility, morality, our relationships with gods, and more – to find rich and complex expression in its characters. I enjoyed Call of Agon a lot, but Road to Rebirth is fantastic, and just a great read, through and through.