Review: We Are The Dead (The Last War #1) by Mike Shackle

Rating: 9/10

Synopsis

The war is over. The enemy won. Now it’s time to fight back.

For generations, the people of Jia – a land where magic has long since faded from the world, clinging on in only a few rare individuals – have been protected from the northern Egril hordes by their warrior caste, but their enemy has not been idle. They have rediscovered magic and use it to launch an overwhelming surprise attack. An invasion has begun.

And in moments, the war is over. Resistance is quashed. Kings and city leaders are barricaded in their homes awaiting banishment and execution, the warriors are massacred, and a helpless people submit to the brutality of Egril rule.

Jia’s heroes have failed it. They are all gone. And yet… there is still hope. Soon the fate of the kingdom will fall into the hands of a schoolboy terrorist, a crippled Shulka warrior and his wheelchair bound son, a single mother desperate enough to do anything she can to protect her baby… and Tinnstra, disgraced daughter of the Shulka’s greatest leader, who now lies dead by Egril hands.

A brand new epic fantasy: gritty and modern featuring a unique ensemble of characters who will lead a revolution against their overlords.

Review

“We are the dead who stand in the light.
We are the dead who face the night.
We are the dead whom evil fears.
We are the Shulka and we are the dead.”

We Are The Dead is a hauntingly vivid depiction of the plight of a conquered people. It’s a story of despair and sorrow. A tale showing that even in the midst of overwhelming fear and darkness, there is always a little light.

I didn’t really know what to expect going into We Are The Dead. I knew it had been compared to Joe Abercrombie’s work so I expected it to be dark, and so it was. We start off the book as the Egril are conquering the Jians with magic that hadn’t been seen in centuries. The takeover is brutal and the Egril are relentless, conquering the entire country of Jia in close to a week.

Where I think Mike Shackle’s writing really shines is his brilliant exposition on the realities of a conquered people. There are 5 POVs in this one. We follow an embittered war orphan that is trying to strike back at the Egril in any way possible, a cowardly daughter of one of the Jian’s greatest generals, a mother who is just trying to survive and keep her infant son safe, a one armed commander who wants to bring Jia back to its former glory, and an Egril Chosen, an elite warrior imbued with magical powers by the Egril emperor himself. Each POV character had a depth of personality and emotion that is not often seen. Each and every sentence felt purposeful. Typically in a multiple POV story there are one or two POVs that don’t really interest me because the character is not interesting or they don’t have an engaging story. However, I can say with 100% certainty that each of these characters and their stories were engaging and immersive. There was never a time where I thought to myself “I wish I could skip this chapter” because I was so invested in every single moment and every character mattered to the overall story.

There may be something off about me because of this, but I think my favorite POV character in this story was Darus, the Emperor’s Chosen. This isn’t because I liked him. Darus is a terrible person. He is a sociopathic sadist who lives for torture and death. However, his convictions and twisted thinking were so compelling that I looked forward to every chapter that was dedicated to him. Even if I was cringing for most of the chapter because of how despicable he is, I was also just completely immersed and felt like I knew this character personally.

Another favorite was Tinnstra, the cowardly daughter of one of Jia’s most famous generals. Tinnstra has a realistic and fascinating arc throughout this story and I enjoyed every chapter with her. There was one moment near the end that she made a decision which I felt was out of character for her which bothered me at the time, but did not really hurt my overall enjoyment of her story and the story as a whole. Tinnstra’s struggle with fear throughout this novel was especially moving and relatable and had me quite invested in her fate.

Illustrated by Mike Shackle

I could honestly go on and on about how well the characters were written in this story, but I will stop at talking about my two favorites and move on to another strength of this story, the worldbuilding.

The overall world in We Are The Dead is pretty standard. There are 5 separate kingdoms ruled by kings. Jia and Egril are the two kingdoms that the story is focused on, with the other three kingdoms being more in the background for the majority of the time. However, we do get more glimpses into the kingdom of Meigore closer to the end. I think the world will expand in the second book and we will get to see much more of Meigore and maybe even the other two countries within this world.

What I am really talking about when I say that worldbuilding is a strength of this book is the atmosphere that Shackle creates. The two Jian cities of Kiyosun and Aisair are where the majority of the plot takes place and they are amazing. From the debris cluttered streets to the defeatist attitudes of a conquered people, these two settings were so immersive. You could feel the hopelessness and the struggle day by day just to survive.

“It had always been a fool’s hope from the beginning.”

What took the worldbuilding to a whole other level was the three horrifying creatures that the Egril brought with them during the war. The Kyoryus, Daijaku, and Tonin are horrific creations that are utterly loyal to the Egril Emperor. The Kyoryus were especially despicable in what it takes to create them and I was honestly terrified of them at times.

The plot was really solid throughout the book. This is a fast paced and intense story that never lets up in its brutality and dark environment. I thought during this book that instead of being named We are the Dead the book should be named “The book where nothing ever goes right.” The protagonists in this story really go through the ringer. Mike Shackle is relentless in showing us the cruel realities of the Egril occupying force and the suppression of the Jian people’s rebellion against them. In contrast to Abercrombie however, I never felt that there was no hope even though this book is grimdark. I always felt that there would be a light at the end of the tunnel and I really enjoyed how the author was able to write a grimdark novel while still maintaining that hope and optimism at the end.

This was a fantastic book. The plot was gripping, the characters relatable and interesting, and the setting was immersive. I highly recommend this book and I can’t wait until book 2, A Fool’s Hope, comes out in December!

2 thoughts on “Review: We Are The Dead (The Last War #1) by Mike Shackle

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