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ARC provided by the publishers—Gollancz—in exchange for an honest review.
Cover art illustrated & designed by: Patrick Knowles
Master of Sorrows by Justin Travis Call
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: The Silent Gods (Book #1 of 4)
Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, High Fantasy
Pages: 576 pages (UK paperback edition)
Published: 21st February 2019 by Gollancz (UK) and 25th February 2020 by Blackstone Publishing (US)
Master of Sorrows a great coming-of-age fantasy debut with promises of bigger things to come waiting to be fulfilled.
For two years Master of Sorrows by Justin Call has been sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read, and that means it’s been two years since my co-blogger—TS Chan—read and recommended the novel to me. My copy of Master of Sorrows has been signed directly by Justin Call when my co-blogger met him during World Con 2019.
I’m thankful for that gift. As I constantly mention, coming-of-age fantasy is one of my favorite tropes in the genre. Master of Sorrows, the first book in The Silent Gods quartet by Justin Call, revolves around Annev de Breth. There seems to be a bit of misinformation or misunderstanding on the official blurb of Master of Sorrows that leads to several readers feeling disappointed. I’m talking about the “what if the hero is the dark lord?” This isn’t the blurb for this book. The author has mentioned several times that this is the theme for the quartet; you won’t see Annev becoming a dark lord in this book, and it’s better to set your expectation accordingly. Also, Call is an incredibly ambitious author; he has mentioned that the The Silent Gods is the first quartet out of three; IF the sales of the series are good enough. That means if all goes according to plan, Master of Sorrows will end up being the first installment in a twelve books series.
“What is it about old books that makes them smell so delicious. Like almonds…or chocolate.”
Back to the actual premies of Master of Sorrows. The Academy of Chaenbalu has stood against magic for centuries. Hidden from the world, acting from the shadows, it trains its students to detect and retrieve magic artifacts. For better or worse, these artifacts are then guarded carefully because magic is dangerous: something that heals can also harm, and a power that aids one person may destroy another. Of the academy’s many students, only the most skilled can become avatars—warrior thieves, capable of infiltrating the most heavily guarded vaults—and only the most determined can be trusted to resist the lure of magic. More than anything, Annev de Breth wants to become one of them. As I mentioned before, this is a coming-of-age fantasy with a magic school setting; a story about loyalty, faith, and choosing our own path. I’ve mentioned in a lot of reviews that a magic/battle school trope is one of my favorite types of fantasy premise to encounter; this is true, and it’s something that I can’t ever get enough of. However, despite containing these elements, Master of Sorrows ended up being at its best when it moves away from the school setting.
I’ve heard from plenty of readers that they DNFed this novel within the first half, either due to false expectation or the book just didn’t click with them. To be honest, I am not surprised at this; the beginning of Master of Sorrows was, in my opinion, by far the weakest part of the book. We’re immediately put into these tests and preparations for the Test of Judgment, but we didn’t get to read enough characterizations on Annev to care about his motivation yet. Harsh to say, but I didn’t find myself caring for him until he started getting bullied. There’s a lot of secret about Annev being kept, and fortunately, once he began asking questions about his own background from his mentor, Sodar, the story gradually improved from there. Annev and his relationship with Sodar were definitely the main strengths of the book for me. Justin Call wrote the apprentice-old master relationship wonderfully, and although there were a few annoying events—Sodar keeping secrets non-stop—they felt like they were there intentionally as a part Sodar’s personality.
“Enjoy what remains of your childhood, because tomorrow will rob us of the things we take for granted today.”
Speaking of intentionally, the relationship between Annev and Myjun was the one thing that I wished was done better. Their relationship felt like reading romance in YA fantasy—I’m not a fan of this—and the direction of their development was obvious from the start. The path of their relationship wasn’t a bad thing per se; it’s actually one of the strong moments of the book. However, if I had cared about their relationship more, the result of their development would’ve been more impactful. That said, I highly enjoyed reading Annev’s interactions with the other supporting characters. Sodar, Crag, Fyn, Therin, Kenton, and even Tosan—I love to hate Tosan—were characters that enriched Annev’s growth as a character.
Let me repeat this once more: Master of Sorrows improved significantly in the second half. Call’s ambitious world-building—whether he can implement them nicely into the series remains to be seen—started being displayed, and we’re only at the tip of the iceberg of his imagination. I’m serious; this is the first volume in a hopefully twelve books overarching series. This might end up having more word count than Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson if the sales of The Silent Gods earn its continuation. Also, Call totally nailed the pacing of the second half with his accessible writing; intense actions—not just battle—and revelations keep on happening non-stop. There was always something going on; character-developments, action sequences, world-building, and Call’s engaging prose made the second half of Master of Sorrows ridiculously compelling.
“When danger comes, it usually comes prepared. You don’t get to find your friends and pick your weapons.”
I won’t lie; the implication contained in the title Master Artificer—the title of the sequel—makes me excited to continue with the series. Magical artifacts and weaponry are something I can’t get enough of in fantasy, and this is one of the aspects that Call executed effectively in this debut. And now that I have the ARC of Master Artificer, I will be reading the sequel very soon. My instinct—they’re rarely wrong now—says that I’m going to love the sequel even more. As for Master of Sorrows, it’s a great and addictive debut that started off a bit rocky, but eventually, it landed its footing firmly. I strongly recommend checking out my co-blogger review on Master of Sorrows. I think she did a better job of reviewing this novel than I did. I highly recommend this debut to those who love reading coming-of-age fantasy with a magic school setting. Even more so if you want to know about the character’s journey when they finished their Academy.
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