Finished on 12/19/2018
Genres: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Alternate History, Military Fiction, Dark Arts, Thriller
Similar books: The Milkweed Triptych, The Poppy War
Recommended Fantasy Thriller
This was a fun, fast paced read. This book successfully does exactly what it sets out to do: be an entertaining, but light read about Allied sorcerers fighting Axis warlocks.
Cade Martin is an apprentice sorcerer who has struck a Faustian bargain with the devil in exchange for magic, and he now uses that magic to fight the Nazis in WWII Europe. Cade, along with his teacher Adair and fellow apprentices Anja, Niko and Stephan, are the only obstacle standing in the way of the dastardly Germanic Thule Society from using hellish magic to take over the world.
This book’s plot was very, very engaging. It’s a non-stop thrill ride from first to last, with nonstop action/combat and plot twists. The good guys are not indestructible, but instead are constantly under threat of being defeated by the evil Thule Society sorcerers. The book carries a dramatic sense of tension as a result.
The book’s characterization is… light. Cade is as generic a protagonist as you can possibly get; he’s a stereotypical Chosen One archetype who is noble in word and deed.
Niko, Anja and Stephan are a little more interesting- each of them experiences a full range of emotions and has a multitude of motivations. Niko is an Algerian/French sorcerer working with the French Maquis rebellion against the Nazi oppressors. Stephan is a gay Jewish sorcerer who is trying to discover what happened to his boyfriend who was sent by the Nazi’s to Auschwitz. Anja is an exiled Russian sorceress who wants revenge against the Thule Society for killing her family .
The book’s pacing is nonstop, brutally fast. This is the most Thriller-y of Fantasy books I have ever read. This is a good thing. HOWEVER the book was too long. Very few stories can sustain brutal pacing for 450pages, and this book isn’t one of them. After a point I got exhausted of the thrill ride and skimmed a bit.
The author had some really, really violent scenes, particularly when characters entered Nazi death camps or were taken out to be executed in mass graves. This enhanced the story. The author wasn’t afraid to go there.
Now for constructive criticism.
I got bored and skimmed the last hundred pages. I like my stories to have more characterization than this. Cade is, quite simply, bland. When some of the more interesting POV characters died/took a back seat and Cade became even more prominent, I lost interest.
The author talks constantly about drug use, but failed to discuss addiction. In this setting you need to take drugs/alcohol/smoke constantly in order to tolerate using corruptive demon magic, making all sorcerers into functional alcoholics/opium addicts. Maybe I missed him talking about addiction when I skimmed, I don’t know. I just didn’t see addiction mentioned.
The book’s magic system revolved around the good Allies being forced to sell their souls to the devil in order to fight back against the evil Nazis. Multiple POV good characters died (and went to Hell because of their bargains), but in the narrative the still-living good-guy characters never reflect upon the fact that their friends are now in Hell being tortured because of their Faustian bargains. It was something which bugged me throughout. Again, maybe I missed the characters talking about it when I skimmed, but I don’t think I did.
I Highly Recommend this if you want a light, pulse-pounding read of Allies vs Nazis. This isn’t a particularly heavy, theme-laden story, but is instead the equivalent of a Tom Clancy novel in Fantasy form. I can also Highly Recommend this if you want a WWII Alternate History Fantasy novel.
I Recommend this if you want a book with an interesting magic system about Faustian bargains and don’t mind a story with a fairly generic protagonist.
I can Recommend this novel with Reservations if you like books with fully fleshed out characters or if you dislike plots with Chosen One protagonists.
One last thing. If you liked this check out ‘Bitter Seeds,’ book one of the Milkweed Triptych. It is very similar to this in theme, storytelling style. However the prose in ‘Bitter Seeds’ was more stained-glass than this, whereas this was more window-pane.