ARC received from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Master Artificer by Justin T Call
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.
Series: The Silent Gods (Book 2 of 4)
Genre: Fantasy, epic fantasy, high fantasy
Publication date: 6th May 2021 by Gollancz (UK) and 18th May 2021 by Blackstone Publishing (US)
Master Artificer is a bigger and bolder sequel in every way possible; Call has taken The Silent Gods to new heights with an explosion of lore, worldbuilding and compellingly darker characterisation.
The one thing I have to say about this sequel was that I did not expect such a dramatic shift in the tone of the story. Call’s debut, Master of Sorrows, was as close to a modern take of a classic coming-of-age story as it could be. It reminded me of The Belgariad with a main protagonist that was at the centre of a prophecy involving the old gods. Except in this case, our ‘hero’ was supposedly destined to become the future dark lord.
This was a remarkably compelling way to modernise the typical heroic arc of classic fantasy stories. The first book of this tetralogy focussed on introducing the readers to this would-be dark lord, Ainnevog de Breth or better known as Annev, as he was in training to become an Avatar of the Academy in the hidden village of Chaenbalu. The Academy’s sole purpose for existing was to locate and retrieve magical artifacts for their safekeeping. Almost a paradox for a boy whose destiny is intertwined with dark magic. Much was revealed about the Academy and its Masters as the intense climax of Master of Sorrows came about, and even more so in Master Artificer which exploded with so much worldbuilding content that my mind went into hyperdrive.
The complexity and intricacy of the narrative increased significantly as the lore and history of the world which was merely teased at before came to the forefront. The magic system is expansive, complex and well thought-out as it even evolves through time – just check out the appendix at the back of the book and you’ll know what I mean – it’s truly fascinating and a lot to take in. As with a world with such deep history and reverence for the gods, there were also many factions and secret groups of differing religious beliefs and agendas to keep track of. How Call kept all these together was simply astounding. I won’t even attempt to explain or summarise it in my own words as it will only be an epic fail on my part. After all, Call spent over 15 years developing its mythology, I’m just a mere passenger on this wondrous journey and adventure through a new and intricate world.
With the sheer amount of worldbuilding required to really get into the meat of things, it becomes apparent that Call had to perform a difficult balancing act in this sequel. On top of that, the character viewpoints also increased from the sole perspective of Annev to several others, which explained why this sequel is a much bigger book. As much as I delighted in discovering more about the world, the introduction of the additional viewpoint characters did take me a while to feel engaged and invested in their stories. Fortunately, these were not new characters but those we’ve already met in the first book, so at least I knew them and their relevance to Annev’s story.
Two of these viewpoints, Kenton and Myjun, were the antagonists to Annev’s arc. While I wouldn’t exactly call it a problem, I had a hard time getting into their chapters due to two reasons. Firstly, I didn’t like them and secondly, there’s so much darkness in their arcs which were filled with so much rage, hatred and pain as both of them had to deal with the consequences of their actions. Make no mistake though, I do recognise and appreciate that having their viewpoints adds to the richness of the overall story even though I didn’t enjoy it half as much as I did for the others.
Speaking of the other viewpoints, Annev’s development was of course the highlight of the book. I’m probably not the only reader of the first book to think that Annev doesn’t seem to embody much “dark lord-ness” in him. Well, let’s just that Master Artificer made a very compelling argument that sometimes it doesn’t take an evil person to do dark things all in the name of stopping those who hurt the ones you love. In short, Annev’s character arc became even more riveting as he gradually comes to his own in wielding his own brand of unorthodox magic, and the series has taken a turn to become really, really dark. Let me put it out there that this book contained some very disturbing scenes.
Master Artificer is a big book, and content wise it seemed even bigger because of the incredible amount of exposition and character development in it. Here we come to the crux of my only real gripe and that there wasn’t any solid plot resolution at the end of so many pages. It felt like a transitional book that was building the foundations of the story that is to come, and one should be prepared to treat it as such. I believe if I knew about this going into the book, I might be able to enjoy it more and just take the time to absorb all that it did have to offer, which was a lot.
I have to commend Call for his audacity in writing such a bold sequel with its dramatic shift in narrative tone, and in so deftly handling the exposition of such complex and intricate worldbuilding. I’m definitely all-in for the ride as The Silent Gods has all the makings and promise of something extraordinary.