Review copy provided by the publisher—Gollancz—in exchange for an honest review.
We Are The Dead by Mike Shackle
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: The Last War (Book #1 of 3)
Genre: Fantasy, Grimdark Fantasy
Pages: 496 pages
Published: 8th August 2019 by Gollancz
So much bloodshed and actions, Shackle’s debut is fast-paced, grim, and unputdownable.
I’m very eager to recommend this debut to readers of The First Law World series by Joe Abercrombie and War for the Rose Throne series by Peter McLean. We Are the Dead is the first book in The Last War series by Mike Shackle, and it leans towards the grimdark sub-genre rather than heroic fantasy. “No More Heroes” is put at the top of the cover art, after all. I honestly thought I was super late in joining the party for this great book because it has been six months since this debut was first published, but I must say that I’m surprised that not many readers have read this yet. I hope more readers will give this book a go.
“The Shulka. The best of the best, experts in all the martial arts. Each and every one of them taught to consider themselves already dead, their lives given to protect all those who lived in the blessed land of Jia from any and all threat. This core belief gave the Shulka their strength. A Man who is already dead has no fear and can act without hesitation to vanquish even the most fearsome foe. For all the good it had done them when the Egril had invaded.”
We Are the Dead tells a war story about an invasion. The Egril invades the land of Jia based on the differences in faith; they kill, pillage, rape—no explicit scenes—and dominate the people of Jia and the Shulka because they want them to submit to their religion. As you can probably guess, this novel isn’t for the faint of heart. Bad things happen to everyone; the weak suffer most, and graphic violence does exist in the narrative. The structure of the plot is slightly reminiscent to The Heroes by Abercrombie. In The Heroes, the entire story of the book depicted three days of war and what happened—mentally and physically—to the people who participated in it. We Are the Dead took a similar approach; the main story revolves around what occurred within eight days of rebellion. There was simply no lull moment in We Are the Dead. I picked this up based on impulse—Gollancz or the author didn’t ask for a review from me last year—only because the book is suddenly available to request again on Netgalley and so I requested it; I knew nothing about it, and I didn’t expect I would be this enthralled by it. It’s violent, vicious, and action-packed without sacrificing crucial characterizations.
“There are bad people in the world who will always find an excuse to justify what they do. They’ll blame anyone and hate everyone who isn’t on their side. It’s not your fault they’re like that. It’s just how they are.”
A LOT of life-changing events could happen within eight days of rebellion, and Shackle showcases this through the perspectives of five flawed and believable characters. Do not expect to fall in love with these characters from the get-go; be patient, there’s a curve to their character development, and it’s rewarding to witness. I mean it, the perspective characters—especially Tinnstra and Dren—in the first half was practically unlikable; Tinnstra was an utter coward, and Dren was a self-righteous rampaging boy who I wanted to kill for the entirety of the first half. War, atrocities, and countless deaths have transformed these people into characters that may be realistic, but unlikeable and infuriating at times to read. I was able to, however, understand why the characters behaved like that, especially in the awful situation they’re stuck with; Shackle did a great job with their characterizations and their development, and that was enough for their narrative to hook me completely. Instantaneous lovable characters aren’t a required factor in my reading; compelling characters that make me want to invest my time for them, however, are, and Shackle nailed this. From disliking Tinnstra’s cowardice and Dren’s destructive behavior, I grew to find myself rooting for them as they gradually developed throughout the book. Seriously, you know the character’s lives are so damn pitiful that when they lose a loaf of bread, you feel freaking sad for them.
Also, for reasons I can’t explain, Tinnstra and the world of this series reminded me of this gorgeous artwork by Guweiz.
Picture: War by Guweiz
I do think that if you’re in the mood for a fast-paced and brutal fantasy, you can’t go wrong with picking We Are the Dead. I was totally in the mood for this kind of reading experience, and this novel delivered on all fronts. The writing is accessible and extremely engaging, the balance between moments of respite and blood-soaked action scenes was done brilliantly; almost every chapter ended on a cliffhanger that compelled me to keep on reading. One of my favorite aspect of this book was Shackle’s way of handling the swordfights; the slow-motion effects perceived by one of the main characters—often followed through by a deadly counter-attack—gave a sense of cinematic visual in my imagination, and I sincerely wish there will be more of it to come in the sequels. I’m also pleasantly surprised by the Japanese and Eastern influences in the world-building; the terminologies and weaponry found in this book such as the Shulka sword (Katana), the Skulls armor (samurai armor), Mizu (water in Japanese), Kage (shadow in Japanese), and Owari (the end in Japanese) were some extra elements that made me enjoy reading the book further. Plus, the existence of monsters, demons, and destructive magic power increased the level of dangers that the main characters faced.
“We are the dead who stand in the light. We are the dead who face the night. We are the dead whom evil fears. We are the Shulka and we are the dead.” Words she knew but had never understood, never spoken. She’d never known the power in them.”
I flew through this book within two days, that’s how much I enjoyed it. We Are the Dead is a vastly addictive and riveting debut novel. Bloody, gritty, and relentless; I’m sure that enthusiasts of The First Law World series by Joe Abercrombie and War for the Rose Throne series by Peter McLean will have a great time reading this one. Sometimes in real life, no heroes will come to save you; everyone has to stand up for themselves. Shackle tells a merciless and incredibly good story about the mayhem of war, resilience towards oppression, survival of the fittest, fear of death, and bravery to protect what matters. I didn’t anticipate this, but now I highly HIGHLY look forward to reading the next book—titled as A Fool’s Hope—in the series due for publication the last quarter of this year.
“You’re writing a new chapter now. The past doesn’t matter. It’s what you do now that counts.”
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