Review copy of audiobook received from the author in exchange for an honest review
Blight Marked by Josh Erikson
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: Ethereal Earth (Book #3)
Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Published: 11th March 2020 by Josh Erikson (self-published ebook) and Audible Studios
Josh Erikson has utterly upped his game in Blight Marked. A heady concoction of compelling character development, interesting worldbuilding, exhilarating action scenes and great humour, the only thing that made it even better was Erikson’s stellar self-narration.
Now, I can’t exactly call myself well-read in the urban fantasy subgenre, but I’ve read the more well-known published series like Dresden Files, Kate Daniels and The Iron Druid Chronicles as well as the self-published Heartstrikers. The first three I would say are more standard urban fantasy fare, while Heartstrikers has a more original worldbuilding. I would say that Ethereal Earth straddle somewhere in between those two spectrums, and differentiating itself with a significantly larger world-at-peril narrative. Hence, the story felt way more epic; as we are dealing with a cosmic power that could completely annihilate all in existence, as well as the power of creation itself.
“I always start with a plan. I just wish I could ever finish with one.”
But first, let’s talk about our dear main protagonist, Gabriel Delling; ex-con artist turned magic-wielding human that is not beholden to any rule book. Gabe is way over his head in having to deal with powers beyond his imagination. As a consequence of the ending in the previous book, everyone that is not a friend or part of his team is after him now. And let’s not forget the evil god who purportedly was on his side for the greater good (that does sound a bit paradoxical, doesn’t it?) From the first book, Gabe has been grappling with his world being turned upside down and inside out. Our reluctant hero has grown a lot into accepting his legacy. While it’s true that he may still whine and complain about it, he gets things done. More crucially is how he finally settled into his relationship with Heather as the dynamics between these two characters play such a pivotal role in overall story. Gabe’s character growth throughout these three books had been compellingly authentic and endearing. Those CONScience excerpts at the beginning of each chapter continued to be a brilliant addition in fleshing out Gabe’s psyche. And could even possibly give some of the popular self-help books out there a run for their money.
“Sometimes the end result of a thing is so much better than the component parts that it really doesn’t matter what it was before it fell into your lap. People are the same… except they can continue to improve. I have to believe that is true, and that we can all become what we want without being held back by what we were. There’s darkness in all of our lives, right? That doesn’t mean we should have to wallow in it”
Erikson evidently exercised a lot of care in ensuring that the characterisation of Gabe takes precedence over just telling an entertaining action-packed story. He is flawed but has a nobility which made him easy to root for. In fact, I wished that he could get a break sometimes as chaos and mayhem doggedly pursue him at every turn. Not to mention the continued presence and machinations of Aka Manah who pretty much was the seed of all Gabe’s troubles since book one. I have to say though, Aka Manah is one of the best characters in the series. He has developed beyond the archetypal evil god persona into something more complex, and surprisingly relatable.
“All it really takes to look like a hero is to avoid slouching as you go to save the day. But the point is that you do go, isn’t it? The showmanship is just to make sure you get credit for it.”
Even though I felt that Gabe’s character development took precedence, this does not in any way mean that the rest of the elements of a great story had been compromised. In fact, what made Ethereal Earth such engaging and entertaining books is the right balance that Erikson was able to achieve between characters, plot and worldbuilding, as well as a healthy dose of great humour. This book is replete with seemingly insurmountable obstacles for Gabe to overcome, which usually come in the form of heart-pounding and epic action scenes filled with all sorts of monsters and creatures, and ultimately the cosmic powers itself. The climax of Blight Marked was one of the most epic I’ve come across in urban fantasy to date; seriously, it was like a world-ending, series-finale level of epic. Best of all, there will be more to come.
“Deep down most of us believe we’re frauds. But it’s only when we stop believing that it actually becomes true.”
What made it all even better was how the characters lived and breathed through Erikson’s impeccable self-narration. It has now become impossible for me to think of Gabe without hearing Erikson’s voice. As such, even though the ebook ARC was available earlier, I waited for the audiobook publication because I was certain I’d enjoy the story more that way. Erikson animated the story in my mind with his dexterous and skilled delivery – his character nuances and inflections were spot on and the cadences were just right, be it an introspective or emotional moment, or the humourous banter (which works incredibly well), or all the big cinematic action scenes.
Blight Marked has elevated the Ethereal Earth series to greater heights. It ticked all the right boxes which make urban fantasy so fun and entertaining, then knocked it out of the park with its superb character work and outstanding audio narration.