Author – Lee C. Conley
Pages – 384
Format – Audiobook
“Only valour and steel can stand against the rising dead”
Arnar is a land of warriors, its people as stalwart as the stones themselves. In a land of dark forests and ancient hill forts, a forgotten evil is awoken by curious minds.
The Great Histories and the Sagas say nothing of this evil, long passed from the memory of even the studious scholars of the College. For centuries, the scholars of Arnar have kept these records and preserved the knowledge and great deeds of a proud people. The story of these peoples forever chronicled in the Sagas of the Great Histories.
But now the evil spreads and the dead walk in its wake, terrible creatures roam the night and even the spirits are restless. The Dead Sagas could perhaps be the final chapters of these great records.
Many threads entwine to tell this Saga, interweaving the tales of those who played their part in the search for answers and ultimately their fight for survival. Amid plague, invasion and terror, the inexorable rise of the dead sends a kingdom scrabbling to its knees.
This Dark Fantasy Epic combines dark malign horror and gritty survival adventure as the Dead Sagas unfold in a world where honour and renown is all, where beasts and savages lurk in the wilderness, and where sword, axe and shield is all that stands between the living and the grasping hands of the dead.
If you’re looking for a darkly atmospheric, bleak and bloody fantasy horror, look no further than A Ritual of Bone.
The book is set in what feels like a Norse and middle-ages inspired setting with wild forests, shield warriors and settlements of wood and stone against a backdrop of ominous dark magic and grim foreboding. Conley expertly increases this feeling of dread through the book and really excels in giving you a spine tingling feeling that stays with you all the way through.
You can feel cold swirling mists and that creepy all-too-quiet ambience, you can smell the stench of rot, the scent of blood radiating from the book. I’d probably not advise reading while eating your dinner, especially if it’s meat of some sort!
Is it just an excuse for a big gore-fest then?
No. It’s not mindless and the impact never feels lessened, because things are kept fresh; when a big moment happens it still manages to shock and create the same sense of horror that can often feel diminished in some horror books and movies. This is because Conley seems to instinctively know the right moments to introduce moments to shock, when to build suspense and atmosphere, when to creep the reader out and when to simply give us an exciting action sequence. In this respect he acts as an engineer of terror, fine tuning and sliding the dials back and forth to keep the reader on edge and not knowing what to expect next.
There are some colourful characters, though I didn’t find for the most part that I particularly feared for their fates because I wasn’t invested enough in their well-being. So whilst I enjoyed them, there was no real emotional investment there to make me really feel for any of their situations. However, I felt in the last part of the book, there was a depth to some of the characters starting to develop in a more meaningful way and I did start to feel more attached – especially to Arnulf, a commander and one of the main characters who you feel closer to as the story reaches its pinnacle. This holds a lot of promise for the upcoming sequel, A Ritual of Flesh.
The most entertaining character for me was the hunter Bjorn whose story mostly takes us across the wilderness, discovering creepy abandoned villages and vicious cannibals (and a mysterious wildman) – part of my enjoyment of Bjorn was also through the voice acting and I think the narrator RJ Bayley did a particularly good job of Bjorn’s character and capturing his personality.
Something I particularly enjoyed in the story was being able to observe the descent from a human being into a ravenous, vile creature, humanity being stripped away. It was really harrowing to read (listen to), especially one part about a woman who had started this descent, more zombie than person – but enough trace of her old self remaining to despair deep down somewhere within herself at the fact she had eaten her loved ones. We also see a glimpse of a hierarchy amongst the undead – not in terms of intelligent organisation – think more animal pack such as with wolves. This was pretty cool and as aspect I also enjoyed.
I mentioned Conley’s ability to really create that atmosphere of tension, panic and horror. And this sits behind most of the plot – much of the story is observing the everyday people as well as our main characters as they react to the new horrors they are introduced to and trying to discover what the hell is going on. You can really imagine the deserted villages and scenes of gore – what went on in an overrun or now deserted location.
Sometimes showing the aftermath is actually a lot more effective as a horror tool than actually witnessing events first hand and I really appreciate this technique which aligns with what personally scares me and I imagine many others too, which is the unknown and your own imagination filling in the dots. This is tapped into here and it also makes scenes where the undead appear to feel more brutal and nerve-wracking, with loads of action interspersed throughout the book.
I really enjoyed having the undead meet fantasy & the middle ages, with the Norse theming. And I loved the atmospheric tension; the way it left me on edge shows a fantastic ability to set the scene.
Thankyou to Lee Conley who provided me with an audiobook copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’m looking forward to continuing this saga with A Ritual of Flesh.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the book if it’s something you like the sound of!
For those who appreciate trigger warnings: it goes without saying there are themes of loss, blood and gore, dismemberment etc as well as a scene of reluctant prostitution from a POV character.