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ARC provided by the publisher—Gollancz—in exchange for an honest review.
Cover art designed by: Patrick Knowles
Master Artificer by Justin Travis Call
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: The Silent Gods (Book #2 of 4)
Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Grimdark Fantasy
Pages: 896 pages (Kindle edition)
Published: 6th May 2021 by Gollancz (UK) & 18th May 2021 by Blackstone Publishing (US)
Master Artificer is an epic, super detailed, and ambitious grimdark sequel to Master of Sorrows.
First of all, do not expect Master Artificer to be another accessible and easy-to-read epic fantasy novel like Master of Sorrows. I’ve seen the glimpses of the ambitions and world-building that Call planned for the series in Master of Sorrows, and even then, I didn’t predict that the changes would be this drastic. There’s no point in dilly-dallying by saying that this is morally grey or borderline closing to grimdark; The Silent Gods is now a grimdark series, simple as that. Honestly speaking, I wanted to give this novel a much higher rating because some aspects were utterly impressive. But unfortunately, some parts didn’t click with me.
“He was full of contradictions, yet he burned with the fierce determination to forge his own path—to never become another’s tool or take another’s life unless both necessity and his conscience required it.”
Master Artificer is the second book in The Silent Gods quartet by Justin Call, it begins immediately after the climax of Master of Sorrows, and this is a much bigger and complex installment in every possible way. Master Artificer actually made the predecessor looked like it’s a 400 pages prologue, and this is the REAL first book of the series. I won’t lie, I have mixed feelings regarding this book, and I’ll start with the parts that I loved first. I can’t even begin to say how amazed I am by what Call did regarding the world-building on the series. From the varieties of magic systems, the training montages, the destructive powers, the meddling gods, the multiple worlds, the multiple realms, the magical artifacts, sentient swords, dream walking, mind walking, prophecies, and so many more; there’s a LOT of world-building details to learn in this sequel. I mean it, practically every element you usually encounter in epic fantasy is here. And I also loved the storytelling decision to make this installment a more complex and mature story compared to its predecessor. The mix of real-life languages found in the terminologies and phrasing like nakama (friend in Japanese), tabibito (traveler in Japanese), somnumbra (Somnus means sleep in Latin; umbra means shadow) were ad nice touch, too. Admittedly, I didn’t understand why Oyru needs to speak Japanese, but oh well, I liked his character.
“Sometimes you have to make hard choices. You have to accept that, no matter what you do, some people may die—and sometimes those people are your friends—and the best thing you can do is help the person in front of you.”
In Master of Sorrows, we follow the story exclusively through Annev’s POV; that’s not the case here. There’s more than six POV to follow now, and surprisingly, my favorite POV characters were ones that I never expected: Myjun, Kenton, and Oyru. The best comparison to this expansion that I can think of is Blood Song and its sequel, Tower Lord by Anthony Ryan. By doing this, Call was able to tell a storyline with a bigger scope. However, the admirable world-building and heightened complexity sparked new problems to the overall quality of the narrative for me.
The inclusion of many new character’s POV chapters ended up being a double-edged blade. Master Artificer is a big book; it’s almost 900 pages long in hardcover format, and it’s crazy that I didn’t feel invested in any of the main characters now. I get it; The Silent Gods has been advertised as a series about Annev’s journey towards becoming a Dark Lord. Because of this, it is highly possible that it’s intentional for Annev to become unlikable. I appreciate that he’s trying to forge his own path, but his self-justifications for all his own actions were weak, and I couldn’t empathize with him at all. The only character’s POV I enjoyed reading, as I said, were Kenton, Myjun, and Oyru’s chapters.
“Any other choice meant someone was influencing his actions, and that he was acting on incomplete information. It meant someone was manipulating him. He wanted to know the truth, to know all the forces that challenged him, and then take his chance.”
Call is definitely one ambitious author, and the intricate world-building he put here will most likely play a huge part in the next book. Unfortunately, for this particular novel, the focus on world-building was a bit too much. I personally found that the world-building details he employed ended up bringing down his other strengths as a storyteller. The breathtaking pacing of the first book is missing here; it took me 9 days to finish this book, and I never felt compelled to pick it up whenever I put it down. The character’s development progressed too little to my liking, especially for a book this huge. Some dialogues were also repetitive—the arguments between Annev and Reeve were so dumb, and they revolved around “You knew, why won’t you tell me!?” countered with “Of course I knew. But I won’t tell you. Because you won’t like it.” And the last thing that absolutely didn’t click with me was Fyn’s chapters that started appearing in the second half of the novel. I honestly believe this novel would benefit a LOT from having his chapters completely removed; I get that Call is developing his character for future installments. But Fyn’s chapters felt thoroughly uninteresting, boring, and disjointed from the other characters. Note that I don’t mind detailed world-building, but it must not hurt characterizations and pacing. And this, unfortunately—from my perspective—happened in this book.
“Growing stronger means testing our limits. It means sacrificing our weaker parts in exchange for something greater.”
I know I’m being incredibly critical, but I want to clarify that I enjoyed this book. My main issue with Master Artificer, to put it simply, is that it felt like a 900 pages transitional/preparation novel for the rest of the series to shine. Plus, the ending of Master Artificer didn’t feel satisfying to read. To me, the ending felt like the end of a normal chapter; I would’ve preferred a conclusive or at least downright brutal cliffhanger than what’s put here. If you’re reading this review, please don’t let a 3.5 stars rating from me discourage you from trying this series. A lot of readers, so far, have praised this book highly, and I’m undoubtedly in the minority with my opinion. It seems to me like the second half of The Silent Gods series will be brilliant. Ambitious and detailed world-building is great, but never at the expense of characterizations and emotions. I sincerely hope Call will start connecting the threads between characters and all the detailed world-building in the next book.
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The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
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