Review copy provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.
A brutally gripping story tinged with despair; Solace Lost is a character-driven grimdark fantasy debut that earned its title mercilessly.
Solace Lost is Michael Sliter’s debut; the first book out of five in the Pandemonium Rising series. Before I begin my review, I strongly urge that you read this novel only IF you’re a grimdark fantasy enthusiast. I don’t usually include content warnings in my review but I feel like this book truly warranted one; as it involved a minor spoiler, I’ll mention it at the end of my review.
The main story in Solace Lost follows four main characters: Fenrir, Merigold, Hafgan, and Emma. Ardia is on the brink of a civil war and these four distinctive characters will have their fates intertwined, for better or worse. As I mentioned before, this is utterly a character-driven story and its main strength lies mostly within the characterizations. Each main character has different personality traits, and the inner voices given by the author to these characters made them feel real. Living up to the grimdark genre, none of the main characters can simply be defined as good or bad. The only character that started out as good and kind-hearted was Merigold. That too, for only a while before atrocious things happened to her and she found her life completely turned upside down. I won’t go as far as saying that I loved these characters but I did find myself totally invested in knowing about their journeys. This was especially true for Fenrir and Merigold’s POVs; they dominated the plot of this book and I found their storyline to be the most engaging out of all the characters.
That being said, just because you’re a fan of character-driven fantasy doesn’t mean you should just jump into this immediately. I mean it, this book is an embodiment of darkness and depression; please make sure you’re in the right mindset for a harrowing story before giving this book a go. In my opinion, the tone of the book was even darker than Abercrombie’s First Law series. There’s close to zero hope for the characters here – there’s no comic relief, no humor. Just when you thought they found a flame of hope, it was extinguished immediately. Characters who relied on faith eventually succumbed to the harsh reality of life and decided to take matters into their own hands.
“After all, one couldn’t expect a bolt of lightning to strike someone who’d committed an evil deed.”
The author’s prose was simple and descriptive; easy to read, vivid, and immersive. The descriptive nature of the prose did make the pacing of the book feel a bit too slow sometimes; the dialogues were far and few in between, and most of the time we’re entrenched deep in the character’s mind and actions rather than their conversations. The good thing though, the writing style was able to pull me inside the novel. The environments, the landscapes, the smell; it felt like I was really there. The intricacies of the world-building—detailed lore, magic, and history that left me wanting more—plus the palpable tone of the book infiltrated my mind and I was equally moved and distraught by the events that occurred in the book. I could be wrong here, but I have a feeling that the modus operandi performed by the members of The House towards their target—cutting a finger, leaving them nine-fingered—is inspired by Logen Ninefingers from The First Law series; one of my favorite series of all time, and I found this to be a nice touch.
The story does have magic and we do get to see some scenes of the magic in the second half of the book and it was delivered with explosive impact. The discussion about faith and how it connects to perseverance, strength, hardships and the magic itself was one of my favorite part of the novel. Why do bad things happen to good people? If there’s a god, why does He keep on letting bad things happen? This is an old philosophical and religious debate that’s been discussed countless times. I think the authors did a fine job of exploring the topic. Check out this passage for example, it’s a long one but absolutely worth the read:
“We are all born with the capacity for good and evil, Harmony and Pandemonium. However, the course of a person’s life is not set at birth. No one is born a rapist or a murderer. Or a saint, for that matter. The experiences in their lives—their family, their friends, the events experienced as a child—all feed either this internal Harmony or Pandemonium. Children born by good parents awash in Harmony have a propensity for Harmony, of course. An internal drive for peace and love and protection. But, if they spend time with greedy, vicious friends, surrounded by evil, they will, themselves, become tainted and corrupted. However, the reverse is also true. A child, born with the propensity for Pandemonium, if raised by a loving mother and family, shown the correct path to faith and decency, will grow to be a good person.”
As for minor issues, I did have a few problems with the pacing; this was most evident in the first 20% of the book where the book felt so dense because dialogues were relatively few. The other minor issue was that I found Emma and Hafgan’s storylines to be heavily overshadowed by Fenrir’s and Merigold’s. This doesn’t mean that their storyline was boring or bad per se; it’s just that I’m much more intrigued in reading Fenrir’s and Merigold’s storyline instead. Fortunately, judging from how the book ended, it seems like things are about to get very interesting for every character in the next installment.
Overall, I loved this book. Solace Lost is a riveting grimdark debut that does not hold back its punches. Designed specifically for fans of the genre, it was an incredibly compelling and tragic tale that deals with heavy themes about loss, racial issues, humanity, and faith with maximum force. Sliter has crafted something that would definitely make the Lord and Queen of Grimdark proud. Undoubtedly, I’m looking forward to reading the next installment.
Content warning and minor spoiler on when it happened:
During 20%-35% mark of the book, a character’s POV revolved completely around rape. explicit and implicit. The prolonging of the atrocities done to her was uncomfortable to read (and write, I assume). The explicit rape scene happened once, the rest happened off-screen and mentioned in quite a detailed manner. This event eventually completely changed and shaped the character’s development powerfully, but I do believe it didn’t have to be that long. Something to consider if you’re intend to read this book.