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.
Reading this book is like getting in a car with your best friend who you know is a good driver but still takes you on a rollercoaster of a ride as they floor the gas and tear up the road. I really should have read this book well over a year ago but better late than never. I’m really surprised there isn’t more hype about this book because I absolutely couldn’t put it down.
This story has primarily four POVs but sometimes adds in others where needed. It focuses on two locations, a city called Kiyosun and the Capital of Jia, Aisair. The worldbuilding in this book is really smooth and easily allowed me to picture everything going on and Mike’s prose also made this easy when he used clever descriptions to provide a great visual to go with the scene. The chapters each have the name of the location at the top of the chapter so it is relatively easy to know which part of Jia you’re in again.
This book also has as lot of worldbuiling in the sense of gods. There are four gods that the Jia believe in but the Egril don’t which is why there is war going on. There is Alo, the God of Life, Xin, the Goddess of Death, Ruus, the God of the Land, and Nasri, the God of the Sea. They are mentioned at crucial points when people feel like they need their gods but it is the Egril’s gods that play the biggest part since they’re fighting for what they believe is what their god wants.
We are the dead who serve all who live. We are the dead who fight. We are the dead who guard tomorrow. We are the dead who protect our land, our monarch, our clan. 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. We are the dead. We are the dead. We are the dead. We are Shulka and we are the dead.
Now this is a character driven book and Mike has some fantastic characters. They’re fantastic because of their growth and Mike takes as much care with this as a gardener with their prized flowers. Each movement by a character, each part of dialogue, their internal thinking, their fears, their goals, their actions are all a part of a bigger plan not just for them but for the world they exist in.
Better someone else suffer.
For example, some of the characters are scared or cowardly but are pushed into doing things that they don’t want to do but for different reasons have to do. This makes them face their fears and really shows us as readers what they care about, what they fear and most importantly, how they are changing throughout. This is the good stuff. If you’ve read an amazing book and thought these characters are so good, then this is the kind of book you will want to read.
“Just because I’m paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me.”
I had favourites of course, particularly a kid called Dren who very early on gets captured by the Shulka for trying to draw a dick on their walls. I didn’t realise my love of rebel characters traverses books (Bero from Green Bone Saga is a huge favourite) but it does and I’m so happy I’ve got to watch Dren cause havoc in this book before completing his arc. He is a brilliantly written character and should be near the top of anyone’s favourite rebels lists.
“If you choose to be a sheep, then don’t be surprised when you end up in the slaughter yard.”
I loved the constant action throughout this book. It’s unreal. You think at the start ‘this is a good opening but it can’t continue like this’ but it does! It literally does for 90% of the book. It’s brilliant. I loved how every chapter someone was getting killed or maimed, how the story was rising in tension and things were changing so fast if you blinked you’d have to re-read a paragraph. There were times in the discord when I was discussing parts where there were different opinions on ‘do you think they’re dead or not?’ because you just didn’t know or weren’t sure.
This is a grimdark book and is actually my first grimdark story I’ve read. I loved how dark parts were and that there was no mercy between the two enemies. Even within their own ranks the Egril were ruthless and this is what made this eye opening and exciting.
“Whatever is going to happen will happen. Worrying won’t change a thing. In fact, your mind will make it worse.”
There is magic in this book and this was done really well although it didn’t fill a large part of it but was kept to three or so people. If you’ve read Vicious/Vengeful by V.E. Schwab you will really like one of these people. Mike has given a villain a magic that would normally be considered a “good superpower”. The way that he has turned this power on its head and made it work for the villain was really clever and made them ever so more sinister because they had the good power and the evilness to abuse it. I really liked the villain and they definitely kept the other characters on their toes at all times, never giving them a break.
This book blew my socks off! Mike has written seriously good characters that drag you into their fight and pull out all kinds of emotions. They are the kind of characters who you can understand, enjoy and even despise at times. This is what writing a story is all about and We Are The Dead is a groundbreaking debut novel that everyone should read. I’m surprised more people haven’t actually. I read this at the beginning of January and it lit a fire under me that I couldn’t put out and kicked off 2022 with a bang.