Chasing Graves by Ben Galley
My rating: 3.75 of 5 stars
A big thanks to Ben Galley for providing an ARC of Chasing Graves, in exchange for an honest review.
Spoiler-free review. Please note that the quotes in this review are taken from the ARC edition and may change in the published edition.
When Ben Galley revealed the cover of Chasing Graves and after hearing that it was an Egyptian mythology-inspired fantasy, I knew I had to read the book. My only experience with Galley’s writing before CG was with The Heart of Stone and it was a book I very much enjoyed because of its writing, atmosphere, philosophy and the humanity and depth he insufflated in his not quite human main character. Knowing that, I had the feeling I would embark in a deep and atmospheric reading journey with Chasing Graves and I’m happy to say I wasn’t wrong.
Caltro Basalt, master locksmith and occasional thief, crossed the Troublesome Sea to get to Araxes (capital of the Arc) after he received a mysterious letter offering him a job. As the ship brings him closer to the city, his curiosity turns into dread. For though the City of Countless Souls is the most thriving city in the Arctian Empire and the Far Reaches, it is also by far the most dangerous. Gangs of soulstealers roam its streets. Unaware and unprotected travelers are murdered and transformed into Shades (or ghosts) to be bound and sold in order to serve eternally.
“To a criminal in Araxes, broad daylight only meant they could see better.”
I chose to write this short introduction about Caltro because I feel like his story is central (told in 1st person) and that all the other plots and POVs will eventually intersect with his story at some point. Caltro’s POV also felt a lot more intimate than the others. The struggles and tribulations of his new life were raw but his introspection never lacked humor and sass. The readers will appreciate that the regrets and tragedy that tinted his narration are never too melodramatic or don’t weigh down the plot. I do however wish we knew more of Caltro’s past before his arrival to Araxes to appreciate his slow development more and understand why he was chosen for a certain cryptic task.
“The part of loss that cuts the deepest is that you never know which moments are the last until they’ve already been and gone. The last meal, the last kiss and such.”
We also follow three other POVs that were told in 3rd person and in my opinion, this storytelling choice made for a very interesting narration style.
* Sisine, princess of the Arc and Queen-in-Waiting: intriguer, irascible and very ambitious,
* Boran Temsa, a greedy and cunning Arctian criminal and boss of a soulstealer gang,
* Nilith, a surprising and very determined woman, dragging a corpse and its unbound ghost across the desert and hoping to reach Araxes before it’s too late. Hers is probably my favorite POV because of her tenacity. The variety of encounters she made was interesting to read and her eventful journey was the only one that took me outside of Araxes to explore a more exotic area of the Arc.
“The Tenets were written by the Nyxites, then came the Arc’s Code, adopted halfway across the lands. Society was upheaved. The gods perished. Dynasties were built. Murder became fashionable.”
Society was indeed upheaved but only the wealthy, and by wealthy I mean those who owned the most Shades, rose to the top of the pyramid. The Arctian society is a dreadfully rotten one; built on greed, the thirst for power and enslavement of the souls of those dead in turmoil, or more frequently simply murdered, enslaved and denied the most basic human rights. Galley also incorporated pretty engaged parallels with capitalism and interesting observations of human nature, which are elements I deeply enjoy in my Fantasy reads. A special mention to the writing too! I mentioned it in my review of Heart of Stone and I need to say it again here: Galley’s writing is both simple and elegant, with lovely turns of phrases and clever (and funny) metaphors and puns.
“Any silence longs to be filled, and a lonely mind is wont to fill it with thoughts and made-up whispers, as if the nothingness is too unbearable.”
Now before I conclude this review, I want to get back to the Egyptian mythology aspect I mentioned at the very beginning. I think the book had a few similarities: the landscape (desert and oases, sea, dusty cities, and an important river), the pyramidal structures, polytheism and the concept that death is a temporary interruption of life. But while the ancient Egyptians made great efforts to ensure a comfortable and happy afterlife to their dead, the Arctians (mostly) condemn them to eternal servitude. And while the Nile’s water nourishes the living, the Nyx’s water is used to revive the dead. I hope we will learn more of the dead gods in the next installments to see if there are stronger inspiration from the Ancient Egyptian deities there!
“Religion had died in my country just as it had in this one.”
The pacing was well balanced but I think the book would have benefitted from more action and shocking twists. I’m not saying there weren’t any, because there were. But some were sadly predictable because we had glimpses into the antagonists’ head and plans. Also, though I really enjoyed reading Caltro and Nilith’s perspective, some parts of theirs journeys didn’t really grab my full attention. This is a very personal and subjective feeling and I honestly can’t put my finger on what truly didn’t work for me and where. However, I’m imputing it to perhaps the wrong timing and my mood at the time.
It’s time for me to conclude this already long review! Chasing Graves was just as atmospheric, dark and original as I expected it to be. It’s a great first book to a series I sincerely can’t wait to complete. There is still so much more left to explore in lore, characters (and their hidden agendas) and promising plots and developments to come. I look forward to reading the sequel!
The next books will be available soon! The author announced on Twitter that the series was complete and that he’d be releasing the sequels at a 1-2 months interval!
It’s occurred to me that some of you may not know what I’ve got planned for the Chasing Graves Trilogy as a whole. Well, there’s a reason I wrote the series in one go, and that’s to release each book 1-2 months apart. That’s right! No long waits. No delays. More on this shortly!
— Ben Galley (@BenGalley) 27 novembre 2018