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Faithless Paperback – June 30, 2017
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"Graham Austin-King crushes this one. Dark Fantasy at its finest!" - Michael R Fletcher, author of Beyond Redemption.
"Claustrophic, dark, thoughtful, and full of tension." - Anna Smith Spark, author of The Court of Broken Knives.
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In fact, Faithless paints a complicated and multi-faceted (albeit very cynical) interpretation of religion. The Forgemaster's faith is one which has degenerated to a massive protection racket and slave-trade where converts to the religion are forced to mine various minerals while only a small number are brought up to join the clergy proper. One of the highest ranking priests, Ossan, is also a pedophile who leverages his position to satisfy his depraved appetites.
The protagonists, Wynn and Kharios, are two individuals caught up in the corrupt power struggles between the priesthood as well as the mine bosses. Kharios is the more cynical of the pair, being willing to do almost anything to escape the mines. Wynn is more naive, having been taken from his home and dumped into a situation far darker than he expected. Both do things which are reprehensible in order to try to better themselves.
The church of the Forgemaster is a repulsive faith which is exploiting the belief the locals have in them in order to enrich themselves. However, interestingly, Graham Austin-King doesn't leave it at that. The crimes of the clergy does not appear to be the sum-total of the faith and it manages to inspire a few characters even as they're ground underneath its boot. Whether the Forgemaster exists, has ever existed, or his moral disposition is left ambiguous--which I think makes the questions raised by certain characters more interesting.
Is the story grimdark? Oh, I think so. It just takes a different tact than is usually taken in the story. Instead of the characters being tough anti-heroes, they're good people who are just willing to do evil deeds. It's an interesting take as it allows you to be genuinely surprised when they do what they have to do to survive. Even the most reprehensible characters also show layers as Ossan's crimes are unforgivable but he desires to find the truth of his faith.
The atmosphere Graham Austin-King creates for the mines is suitably terrifying and he really creates a great feeling of banal evil. The fact the miners can mine gold, coal, iron, copper, and other minerals all in the same mine goes unexplained. I also felt the book's timeline jumped around too much with some sections being before the previous ones and others moving far in the future before going back again to the past. I also felt the last third of the novel became less interesting when it became, essentially, a fantasy zombie story. I would have preferred if the story had remained about the church's evil. Indeed, "pedophile priest" is a bit of an overused cliche and one which I felt weakened the story rather than strengthened it.
The supporting cast for the book is a well-balanced group of individuals each adapting to life underground in various ways. We had the cynics, the ambitious, the resigned, and those just trying to make their tally. I was a little surprised there was a thriving drug and prostitution trade, which I would have liked to have known more about since I didn't know how that would survive in a slave-society like the one depicted in the book. I was especially fond of the temple chef who's blind eye to the evils within was even worse than the actual participants in it.
So is Faithless worth your time? I think so. The first two thirds of the novel are exceptional. I felt the world-building and detail going into the Forgemaster's faith as well as life in the minds was well-handled. The characters are, at times, unlikable but that's a good thing if you're trying to avoid traditional fantasy cliche.
_Faithless_ is a book on faith, the lack of faith, and perceptions of what faith means, as the church of the Forgefather doesn’t really hear their god anymore, to an extent coasting on physical resources (the mines and the skill of those in the church at metal work is of considerable value) and also on what latent magic survived from the heydays of the church (though the reader questions through most of the book the rituals and songs using in metal working, wondering if they are just tradition, perhaps ways of marking time or keeping focused on the task at hand, or if they really contain power). Does one need to really believe in the Forgefather to live and work in the church, to use the rituals, to reap the benefits? Or as the miners and craftsmen of Aspiration show, is it just more about at the end of the day survival? Is faith just belief in a god, is it also not just knowing a god exists but believing in what that god stands for, can one have true faith in a god’s beliefs if one sees or knows only a limited amount of information about that (was the Forgefather just a god of the blacksmith and metalworker, or was he more), or can faith also mean keeping the faith with one’s beliefs, in standing up for what is right and opposing what is wrong, no matter the cost? Is a person who just does whatever it takes to survive, no matter who it hurts, the man or woman who is truly faithless?
_Faithless_ is a book about hidden threats, hiding in either the literal dark (the seductive, whispering Utterdark deep in the caverns, tempting miners to their doom, never to be seen again, a phantom creature that may or may not exist, though the people who disappear are definitely gone) or figurative dark (the hidden secrets of the church, hollow as it may no longer believe in the deity they claim to serve, a church also hiding deep sins like slavery, sexual assault, and murder).
_Faithless_ is also, perhaps most importantly, a story of two people caught in the world of the church of the Forgefather and the mines and town of Aspiration, dealing with mining accidents, rival mining gangs, rebellions against the rule of the church and the authorities in Aspiration, conspiracies, the whispering temptations of the Utterdark, and a murderous pedophile priest who offers on one hand power, knowledge, influence, and a way out of the mines (for a very, very few people are chosen from Aspiration to become novices and enter the church, having to make their way up its various hierarchical rungs to become a full priest) and on the other abuse or worse (as those who displease him can be sent back to the mines or made to disappear in the deep dark caverns). One individual the reader gets to follow is young Wynn, a former farm boy apparently sold into slavery to the church by his father (whom we never really even see to any extent), who discovers the harsh realities of being a miner, of life in Aspiration with its many unwritten rules, and of testing to become a novice in the church. Another individual is an older, bitter, broken man, not as hopeful, much more prone to do whatever it takes to get out of the mines, a place he had left once before, a man by the name of Kharios. Wynn and Kharios provide some vivid contrasts; Wynn, still learning, Kharios quite knowledaglbe about how this world works, Wynn filled with hope, believing in much of what he is told, Kharios much more cynical and distrusting, his conscience and concern for others buried under layers of abuse and painful lessons, some from what was done to him, some from things he failed to do.
The town of Aspiration, the mines they work, the personalities of both the town and the church were very vividly described and sucked me right in. The descriptions of the activity of mining itself, of blacksmithing, felt real and definitely had a palpable weight of authenticity without being in any ponderous or “info dumps,” with the very acts of mining and metalworking being use to explore the thoughts and actions of the individuals in the book and the nature of the setting, be it the Utterdark, the faith of the Forgefather, or of magic in this world; it was never “fantasy setting with well described mining and metal working scenes” but rather “the mining and metal working scenes, even the physical acts of using the hammer or working the forge had deeper meanings that were surprisingly revealed later in the book.”
The book has one of the biggest twists I have seen in any fantasy setting, maybe about the 60% mark, where the entire tone and definitely the plot radically changes. At first it was jarring, it felt like a different book at times entirely (but it was quite exciting) but the author very skillfully shows it isn’t anywhere near as divergent as it first appears and is quite logical and thought out in terms of the setting. I will admit now quite getting how well grounded it was may have contributed a bit to how exciting it was, as the change was quite surprising though in retrospect, logical.
Well written book, It stands out from all the fantasy I have read in recent years.
Most recent customer reviews
The temples of the Forgefather have fallen. The clerics and defenders that could once be found across the nine lands are no...Read more
Stuck between a 2 or 3 star I ended up going with the 2. Because it really was just ok.Read more