Author – Patrick Samphire
Pages – 362
A really fun fantasy murder mystery that grabs you on the first page and doesn’t let go.
I was seriously impressed by Patrick Samphire’s Shadow of a Dead God, which helped get me through a very dreary week or two. It was incredibly fun, full of heart and a real page turner.
All of the way through and after I’d finished it I was conscious that there were just no boring bits. Every few pages, every chapter, something significant or interesting happened to keep me immersed.
The first person protagonist, Mennik Thorn is a mage – just not an especially powerful one. He’s fully aware of this and accepts his limitations, with honest and self deprecating assessments of his ability. He’s not interested in power (intact he’s repulsed by it and the effects it has on people) and he’s genuinely likeable, with that everyman quality about him. Despite this, he manages to remain a believable character when he does overcome challenges and difficulties placed in his way.
Part of his appeal comes down to his unwavering love and loyalty towards his best friend Benny – and Benny’s daughter Sereh. Benny’s moral compass is a little more skewed than ‘Nik’s, being a rather skilful but unashamed thief. Their friendship though is undeniable and you feel their chemistry when they are with one another.
Sereh is perhaps my favourite character though because she’s a 9 year old creeping death. Some of Nik’s observations are hilarious – this little girl keeping him on edge, a blade in the dark, a born killer. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that she’s a young girl and not worry about where she is because she’s more capable (and cold blooded) than most adults – something our protagonist also drifts into complacency with from time to time. Her character is really well done; she’s not some eyeroll-inducing invincible assassin child, but she’s learnt from her Dad how to use the shadows and avoid being seen – and she can get a knife into her hand within the blink of an eye.
I have to mention Dumonoc while I’m on characters. Possibly the most hilariously rude barman, who hates everyone – not in a dry humour way – he genuinely just hates people. So of course a barman/owner of a pub is the ideal job.
A Magical City
Given that all the book takes place in the city of Agatos, you could be forgiven for expecting some stagnation in the setting over a few hundred pages. This isn’t the case, however and it really was a pleasure to get to know Agatos more intimately as the story unfolded, which is well imagined without being as in-depth to be a detriment of the main plot. Each part of the city is intriguing and enables you to build a picture in your head of this living, breathing world our characters find themselves within and the types of characters that inhabit it.
The city is controlled by 5-6 sources of influence. We do have the senate mentioned though they do not play a major role in our story; those that do, either directly or indirectly are The City Watch, The Ash Guard and the three high mages, each of these mages with their fingers in different pies, so to speak – and keeping a balance of power behind the scenes. The City Watch are your standard sort of law enforcement whilst the Ash Guard are altogether more unique.
“The stenches and oozing liquids from a rotting god’s body were what we called raw magic. It permeated the air and the ground and the water wherever a god was worshipped or feared, and where the god’s body lay”
They are named after the ash they carry – ash from the remains of a dead God. This ash counteracts the effects of magic. In fact it completely nullifies all magic in its vicinity, so that anyone covered in or having ash on their person cannot be touched by magic.
This makes the ash guard (who hold all the ash) a formidable opposition for any mage and the only force capable of keeping magic users in check should they commit crime or push their power too far. The Ash Guard work under their own authority, making them as equally as, if not more dangerous than the high mages with their power plays beneath the fabric of all activity in the city.
Gripping Murder Mystery
This story gets its claws into you through an engaging plot focused on a magical murder mystery, for which Mennik has been framed. Finding clues and getting closer to unraveling events adds to that page turner quality and gives you that “one more chapter” feeling, because you need to know what’s going on!
Just enough is fed to you without giving you too much of an idea and this breadcrumb trail is really successful in keeping you thinking, and through it is able to introduce other characters, the city and the magic system in greater depth as Mennik attempts to solve the mystery before it’s too late.
Light (and dark) Hearted Fun
The writing style that holds all of this in place is easy to follow and I love the fact that while I usually prefer a third person narrative, the first person story here is executed masterfully. It was the type of immersion in which I could just relax and read 50 pages without coming up for air, enjoying Mennik’s internal monologue and witty observations, and his problem solving techniques to get to the bottom of the situation he’s placed in. With some comic relief in places, and enjoyable banter between Mennik and Benny, things do get dark at times too, with brutal dismemberments for starters.
Don’t expect a pure comedy novel – the humour is just there to provide a nice balance and keep things fun, which this book absolutely is.
At its heart, it’s a book about friendships and loyalty in the face of adversity, with a clear message that love, hope and determination are powerful weapons. And that’s exactly the sort of message we need.
A dead god. A brutal murder. A second-rate mage.
It was only supposed to be one little job – a simple curse-breaking for Mennik Thorn to pay back a favor to his oldest friend. But then it all blew up in his face. Now he’s been framed for a murder he didn’t commit.
So how is a second-rate mage, broke, traumatized, and with a habit of annoying the wrong people supposed to prove his innocence when everyone believes he’s guilty?
Mennik has no choice if he wants to get out of this: he is going to have to throw himself into the corrupt world of the city’s high mages, a world he fled years ago. Faced by supernatural beasts, the mage-killing Ash Guard, and a ruthless, unknown adversary, it’s going to take every trick Mennik can summon just to keep him and his friend alive.
But a new, dark power is rising in Agatos, and all that stands in its way is one damaged mage…