In the war-torn lands of Krandin, a kingdom fighting against the Worm King of the Penullin Empire and his dark magic, a stranger wakes, knowing only that his name is Stratus.
He possesses great strength and magic, but only fractured memories of his past, and a growing certainty that he is not, in fact, human.
As he explores this new world, disoriented, making few friends and many enemies, the battle for his mind will determine the fate of the world.
Infernal is certainly a strange one for me … I’ve never before read a fantasy focused on an inhuman (literally) character, that is both instantly dislikeable and very, very intriguing before. I mean all of that in the best possible way. This is a debut that kicks and punches you with all the cool things of the genre: Magical wards, the undead, castles, nobles, beasts and a good old bit of swordplay. It also intersperses this with the new; a heavily nuanced that voice shouts loud that it isn’t human, but still encourages the reader to follow, hate (love) and explore the human world along with Stratus, the straight-talking, brutally violent, main character.
As I have mentioned, the story is focused around Stratus (who we’re led to believe is not human) but he doesn’t quite remember what he is, or even how he got there in the first place. A focus of this is his struggle to fit in with the human world and every one else around him – he makes his hatred for humans known with his super-human strength (and the beatings doled out with this.) And his willingness – literally – to tear the jaw off anyone in his path. He’s a character that flaunts his strength, cares not for those he thinks deserve to be on the other end of it, but also presents a very layered, well put together character with no shortage of mystery.
The focus on identity, paired with his natural sorcerous skill, strong sense of smell and cat-like curiosity leads him into many tangles with necromancy – a feature of magic that I love in any fantasy novel (for who doesn’t like the undead?) … no really. He is searching for clues on the Worm King, a man leading an army of wizards who threaten to topple the city next, for all have fallen so far in their path. His link to which mystyfies the reader until the very end. There’s also Tatyana, the last of a line of knights that he has other unknown links to, Prince Lucien Stahrull, Magus Fronsac and a plethora of intriguing characters that suffer at the end of his sharp wit and physical approach to things. He might not think too much of humans, but I had a fantastic time watching Stratus learn of his past, of what he really is, while unravelling the mysteries that have the city reeking of necromancy.
The voice was at times uncomfortable and at best a joy (read: cynical terror) to read. Mr de Jager did a phenomenal job with keeping the character relatable and also completely unrelatable. Obviously, the way a non-human character interacts with a human world, the language they use, the concepts they know, are going to be entirely different from those humans experience. Especially when they don’t remember who they are. This was something that I particularly enjoyed and also thought was done well. I totally believed he wasn’t human. Though, the one thing that let this down for me was that I guessed very early on what exactly Stratus was … though not something to do with the writing, I thought the clues in parts of the books were too heavy before they needed to be.
The magics … trap wards, elemental constructs, mind control and necromancy (to keep it simple) were very fun. What more do you want in a fantasy novel? The system is soft, and by that, I mean that the rules of how it works are kept to a real minimum. But I enjoyed it that way, it helped present the effect that this is something that has always been present in the lives of the characters and is both integral to the plot but not so overriding to it that it takes centre-stage. No, Stratus has that. With great lore that outlines the origins in the Dreamsinger and the Songlines left behind, there’s plenty for the fantasy fan to eat up surrounding it, but also manages to limit the magic, set restrictions and prevent Stratus and the wizards from being too overpowered. Which is something I love, even in a system like this.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s fun, everything a fantasy reader needs and also short enough to be consumed in a few days. A nice rest from those great tomes I usually find myself buried in (under). The magic is what you’d expect, but with its own voice and the plot is original, quirky with a nice bit of mystery (which, as I’ve mentioned before, is a bit of a staple love of mine.)