Book Review: Master of Sorrows by Justin T. Call - the first book in a fantasy series detailing the journey of a future dark lord

Book Review: Master of Sorrows by Justin T. Call

Title: Master of Sorrows

Author: Justin T. Call

Publisher: Blackstone Publishing

Publication date: February 25, 2020

Genre: Fantasy

Summary: Annev wants nothing more than to become an Avatar, basically an Academy-trained thief who retrieves magical artifacts. But he has a secret that, if revealed, would absolutely spell his death. The only member of the Academy who lives with an outside mentor, he also trains to be a priest, but it only brings the different ideologies each brings into conflict. Annev, though is good at almost everything and, by being incredibly smart, he manages to achieve his goal, just in time for his small, hidden village to be attacked and his secret revealed.

Described as the story of a young man destined to become a dark lord, I couldn’t resist it. It’s the beginning of a series, and I’m intrigued to see how it goes and how Annev’s journey into becoming a bad guy goes, but I can’t say I was completely satisfied in this first chapter of that journey. I know every dark lord has a start, but I had a hard time reconciling the idea of a dark lord with Annev’s characterization in this book. Of course, I see bits and pieces where the darkness can creep in, but he still just feels so overwhelmingly good that I can’t quite see the next, or any future, step.

The Characters: Amazingly Consistent

I must say I was quite impressed with the characterizations in this book. The characters felt like they were living and breathing. Even the minor characters were given their own lives, and it was so easy to think of them moving around and living while the story was unfolding. The main characters were given individual histories and personalities and watching them clash and harmonize was fascinating.

At the same time, Annev was so interesting, so complex that most of the other characters, while interesting on their own, paled next to him. That might be because the reader is really put into his head so he’s more understandable, though. It just made everyone else more predictable and sometimes feeling like they were only there to support Annev’s descent into becoming a dark lord.

What I loved the most was how consistent the characterizations were. Sometimes it’ll feel like characters act out of character for the sake of the story, but it didn’t feel at all like that in this book. Every character had their own motivations and personality and how they would react in any given situation. I was pleased that they were all so incredibly consistent, even when a different choice to be a bit off character would have done them well. It also made the relationships between the characters feel more authentic, more life-like, and much more interesting.

The Setting: A Magically Hidden Village

Most of the story is centered around the small, magically hidden village Chaenbalu. There isn’t much more described beyond it or the woods it’s nestled in, which felt completely unearthly and quite frightening, making it the perfect place to hide a hidden village. The reader is offered hints of the wider world, and I can’t help but feel really curious about it. Since this is Annev’s journey to becoming a dark lord and there were hints about leaving the village, I’m hoping that the next book will take the reader beyond the woods.

The village was quite interesting. It seemed that no one ever left outside of the Avatars and no one ever really entered. Yet everyone seemed quite happy to never leave the village. It was a close-knit community that closely adhered to the rules laid down by the Academy, but, at the beginning of the book, how their society functioned was a little confusing. Still, it seemed very quaint, small enough for everyone to know everyone, large enough for it to not feel confining. Or, at least, no one seemed restless, except Annev.

The Academy itself felt most interesting. It seemed to be governed separately from the rest of the village and almost seemed as though you entered and never really came out. Some members of that particular society weren’t even allowed to leave the Academy walls. It had its own structure and hierarchy, which kept it functional, but also seemed a bit in the dark ages. Still, there was so much to it that I felt I could explore it forever and still not see everything.

The Plot: An Opening Chapter

I think of this as the opening chapter of a dark lord’s life. After all, the series is supposed to be about a young man who is destined to be a dark lord. I struggled to see the connection between Annev and dark lord, though. Certainly, there were bits and pieces that gave me flashes of insight, and I can certainly understand Annev’s frustration and wariness, but I still have a hard time seeing how he will become said dark lord. Boiled down, this is just the start of Annev’s life, his life as it leads up to a tipping point, where we can see warring ideologies that shape his thinking, where we can see a point where he had everything and then lost it all.

What really blew me away, though, was the intricate mythology behind the story and the world. It was really breathtaking and beautiful and masterfully woven throughout the book. I can’t say for sure if I enjoyed Annev’s story or the mythology more.

This was a relatively slow moving book. The reader is given detail after detail to make the world and story as rich as possible, but it did make the story quite long, especially since a lot happens, but it felt like only one plot point in the greater story was hit. I did like that the slow pace really gave me insight into Annev and his background and that the story felt more character-driven, but I sometimes wished it would pick up now and then.

Overall: A Fascinating Fantasy

This is an interesting slow-moving fantasy with a unique concept. It has a fascinating world complete with a rich mythology, intriguingly complex characters just starting to find their paths, and a unique story that promises to be more interesting further down the line. The only thing that still bothers me is that I can’t reconcile Annev with a dark lord, but I look forward to seeing how his journey proceeds in that direction.

How many cups of tea will you need?

4 should do the trick

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Thank you to NetGalley and Blackstone Publishing for an advance e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

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