Seeds of War is an epic fantasy that entwines three protagonists into a tale of colonisation, demigods and war.
Rednow, the legendary mercenary and smokesmith, who has the dilemma of appointing his successor when he finally retires and while his smoke-filled lungs still function. As always, there is one last job he needs to do first.
Gimlore, the Viper, a war veteran who wants nothing more than to quietly see out her remaining days in the settlement she helped find in the tropical swamplands. When emissaries and settlers arrive, just how far must she go to protect the town and the elixir harvested from the swamp’s fauna?
Finally, the divine charlatan; a hapless con artist who got lucky when the mysterious red orb hanging from his neck performed a miracle that became falsely attributed to him. Now spinning the lie that he is a god, in order to find something, anything, to finally cure the chronic and crippling migraines that plague him. It is said there is an elixir that may be his last resort.
The ambitious debut from João Silva is upon us and what a debut this is. The tripoint narrative is a real page burning addition that really worked. Silva finds that perfect balance between giving each of the three main characters their time in the spotlight while leaving enough cliffhangers to keep on reading.
So, perhaps the best way to review this book is to review the fact that Seeds of War feels like three epic fantasy books merged into one pure, undiluted fantasy behemoth.
Rednow is a smoke-wielding mercenary who just wants to retire. He’s old for a merc (he’s 60+) but still a powerful force. It’s mainly through Rednow that we see the use of the special herbs that create smoke – the source of power for magic users in The Smokesmiths. Inhaling the smoke comes at a bloody cost and every time Rednow must use his power, it could be his last. It gives the Rednow sections a foreboding finality to them.
Gimlore’s sections give an almost western frontier feel to them. Remember Deadwood? Think Al Swearengen comes to grimdark and you’ll get a little flavour for Gimlore, who is actually a well-fleshed out character. She treads that line between being the book’s “good” character while, in true grimdark fashion, having a shady past and often questionable methods. She’s a hero if you’re on her side but a pragmatic force to be reckoned with if you’re not.
And then we come to Orberesis. This for me is Silva’s shining moment. Orberesis’ arc is captivating. I needed to know if people would find out that he’s not really a god. I needed to know what was the deal with the red orb. I wanted him to succeed but in equal amounts also wanted him to fail. Orberesis twists and gnarls into this pathetic yet incredibly dangerous villain in a most satisfying way. I hated him and I loved it. A fascinating character who is in way over his head but somehow, somehow, manages to do just enough to keep on being a vengeful and pitiful bastard.
The rest of the world in Seeds of War holds up well enough to make this a must-read for 2023. With a magic system that holds great consequences for its use, as well as a terrible origin, the book’s other strength is to put faith in characters who aren’t your typical heroes or identikit fantasy tropes.
A Fragile Hope for Better Days
Silva’s debut is exactly the right amount of grit and smoke-fuelled fantasy that feels like the start of a chest-burningly solid series. If this first novel is anything to go by then readers should be in for the long haul. Smoking is addictive, after all.