Connor Magnuson is going to conquer Death itself.
A penniless drifter, Connor has survived the last eight years alone in a cursed woodland teeming with monsters that eat grown men whole. Shunned, forgotten, and with nowhere else to go, he looks death in the eye every night and draws his sword to face it. The forest, after all, burned the fear out of him long ago.
Still, it hasn’t hardened the last shreds of his heart quite yet. When Connor hears a mysterious girl scream in the middle of nowhere, he ends up in a brutal battle that nearly costs him his life. His bravery does not go unrewarded, and in the aftermath of the fight, he finds himself bonded to the most infamous enchantment the world has ever seen: the Wraith King. The undead abomination grants him godlike power, but legendary magic always comes with a cost. Even as his fellow outcasts flock to him for help, Connor is branded as an outlaw. Kings and lords alike know where the wraith has gone, and they’ll slit his throat to take it from him. To them, a peasant like Connor is unworthy. He’s a mistake to be corrected, and nothing more.
But Connor is no ordinary man, and he’ll drag those hunters to hell with him if that’s what it takes to protect what is his.
This review contains minor/major spoilers – you read at your own risk.
I received this book as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Wraithblade is one of those stories where you don’t get bored at all. The story’s blurb itself sets out the path for you. There’s a crazy King called Henry who uses the Wraith King for expansion, for greed, for conquest and as a result, ends up dying. The King loses himself, his self-being, and his sense of morality almost. And in comes Connor, a man that no one knows about but he is a peasant and he gets connected to the Wraith King. And in between all of this, he becomes entangled in a plot of myriad political conspiracies involving powerful families and a jealous lord named Ottwell who is a despicable man, a man that is for sure the puppeteer. Ottwell often drives the story forward, and when you read the book, you’ll see traces of his grand plan here and there, subtly or not. If it’s one thing Ottwell excels at, he’d make a really good disciple of Darth Vader. That’s for sure. Ottwell reminds me of those men in history who have only ever served their lords and masters until the time is right to betray them. I wouldn’t trust Ottwell with a stick. Ottwell is the type that will betray you for coin or sacrifice your ambitions for his. That’s how well written Lord Ottwell is written.
This story is vast, and it contains many character arcs that have some good ending’s in my opinion. My favorite character was the disgraced Blackguard Murdoc masquerading himself as one of those stubborn, highly arrogant actors from a play that thinks too highly of himself. Murdoc is one of those rogue-like characters that surprise you in the end. Murdoc was funny, witty and his reactions were very engaging. Many times I felt that if Murdoc hadn’t been there, well the story needed him. He felt real enough, and he is good as a device to make the story for you to guess often of what might happen next. The Wraith King was one of those characters that I didn’t expect to like, but I’ve grown attached to him. I have a nagging suspicion that the Wraith King could be Connor’s father, my reason for this is because sure, the Wraith King is a powerful lord that thirsts for war and power. But you’ll notice, he often keeps an eye on Connor as if he were a son to him. My theory could be false, and let it be so.
But when you see a shrouded skeleton hovering over you and talking to you intensely, I wonder if some secrets need to be revealed. As for Connor, our main character, I felt his personality didn’t shine enough because this is the first book. In the first book of any fantasy series, I’ve come to accept that the main character doesn’t always need to be compelling within the first few pages. It takes time for us humans to express our personalities given in a new environment and we won’t be perfect right off the bat. Within the next 2-3 books, you will see his personality shine through. Because Connor is a perfect example of an interrogator crossed with a good man’s principles. Connor is a truth-seeker. He can expose the truth out of anyone. He’s dangerous. He’s forewarned a lot of people not to mess with him. This is why we have Murdoc and Sophia. Sophia is an elegant, beautiful woman who has also been involved in the arts of necromancy. She’s brash, she’s opinionated and she often is a loyal friend. She has loyalty, something which is rare in a world full of monsters and creatures trying to eat each other. Murdoc and Sophia balance Connor perfectly, and I think this chemistry will expand on into the second book.
There were some particularly favorite moments in the book. There was a scene in particular where Ethan the burly carpenter had helped Connor so to say and arrives in an Inn. A couple arrives saying they were attacked by fearsome beasts. Then comes a mysterious rumor of a ‘shade’. A hero that helps people. Ethan bursts out in embarrassment when drinking his ale. That scene made me laugh. Ethan and his family were really good characters and I want to see them in the second book. There are many such scenes in this book, involving some really powerful characters. Quinn was also good with her large fearsome pet, Blaze. I liked how she reacted to the world around her and she’s not stupid. I like that in a character. But there’s a lot more of her that I won’t discuss about because you’ll figure it out.
Aside from this, I have immense respect for the author and her ability to write fighting scenes in elaborate detail, and her ability to write good prose. Good prose is hard to come by. She often balances the prose between elaborate details of grand buildings and contrasts that with the uniforms of soldiers, nobles and guards. This is a good detail. However, sometimes I felt the story became too bogged down with those elaborate details when it wasn’t needed. As a nitpick, I sometimes found this to become almost too technical. For example, some scenes had too much detail of sword-fighting, and while I don’t mind that, it slowed the pace down for me a lot. The sword fighting was realistic and accurate. It didn’t feel to me that it was some elaborate battle design set-piece with fancy moves. Connor’s ability to become powerful helps from his connection to the Wraith King. The story often picks up when certain truths are exposed. Connor, Murdoc, and Sophia are all holding truths that they don’t want to reveal.
My criticism of this that sometimes it went into the niche of well we have characters that are brooding, and I’ve read in other fantasy novels characters that are brooding all the time. My only suggestion is to have Connor and Murdoc have their personalities shine more in the second book. I want them to start enjoying life a little more, I want them to laugh at a comedy play or something like that. And the book does that well, but I’d also want way more interaction between Murdoc and the Wraith King. That really would be a fun and plentiful exchange and would be a delight to read. Sometimes there was a lot of telling vs showing which is inevitable because, in a 700-page book, you can’t get everything right. There were some errors with the spacing of full stops in the quotation marks when I read on my kindle fire. Some scenes were slow-paced and I think that dragged the story down. Some scenes weren’t needed in my opinion. It doesn’t detract from the wonderful story that it is, but it feels like another round of editing would have gone away with some filler scenes here and there.
I feel that in the end, writing a 700-page book is not easy, and the author has done a wonderful job. The story was strong enough to come across the pages, confident of its elaborate worldbuilding. My criticism is that there wasn’t a map provided and that there was talk of a world beyond a desert. I do hope the author will add some fantasy Arabian/Indian style kingdoms or empires, or even an Ottoman Inspired empire. I would like to see something like that. But that is only a wish, not a suggestion. I believe that in the end, this story is thoroughly worth reading. It’s a fun fantasy read at the end of the day. I also listened to some ambience music: Pillars of Eternity Ambience which if you search on YouTube you’ll find. It’s a really good story and I recommend it.
You can get the book from the author’s site: https://smboyce.com/books/wraithblade-saga-book-1-wraithblade/