Review of ‘Faithless’ by Graham Austin-King
If the mines had taught him anything, it was that it was never a good idea to stick your neck out. Especially when the headsman is already looking at somebody else.
‘Faithless’, authored by Graham Austin-King, is the first book in his new fantasy series. ‘Faithless’ is set in a claustrophobic minimalist setting — a temple and the mine that supplies it. The book is dark, brutal and does not shirk away from reprehensible issues like child abuse. Ultimately, this is a book about human nature — what does faith mean, how do we aspire to become better and the abuses of power and authority.
I strongly recommend ‘Faithless’ to readers of general fiction. I loved this book for its realistic protagonist, supporting characters and general writing.
The protagonist is not your cookie cutter typical fantasy force of destruction. He is flawed as are all the other characters. He has been driven base cowardly behaviour as a means of survival due to his being beaten down by the world. His hero’s journey is basically a reflection of his climb back towards more moral behaviour
The book was brilliant. I think the best way to summarize it as a mix of ‘Fountainhead’, ‘Thud!’ and ‘The Cleric Quintet’. ‘Faithless’ is the alloy which we get out of these very different books.
The first two thirds of the book are heavily focused on craft and faith. The religion in this book is based on smithy. The god who used to express himself in the process of smithing (not smiting though he did that too) has now been missing for a long time. The church is trying to carry-on without its god and faith (or the lack of it) takes the focus. While no gifts and miracles are forth coming, the smithing craft is still revered and is a core tenet of the church. But the dark underside to this is the mine which supplies the church with its ore. Aspirants are taken to the mine first and only those found worthy are brought to the church. These two settings form the background for the story. Our protagonist (and others) struggle to survive in the mine and the church. I found this part of the book outstanding.
The last one third of the book focuses more on spirits and divine magic. While this section provides the climax (of the book and the hero’s journey), I found it to be less enthralling. I felt that the change in tone was abrupt and the book suddenly seemed to veer in a direction that is more commonly travelled. Don’t get me wrong. The book is still good. It is just that this transition was probably not needed and could have been dealt with better.
Other Thoughts (Spoilers warning)
Spoilers below. Continue reading at your peril.
The book actually has two protagonists — Kharios and Wynn. They have separate story lines which ultimately merge. I don’t know if the author intended this to be a twist but it becomes apparent quite early that they are one and the same, but are at different times in their life.
The most cringe worthy aspect of this book comes in the form of Ossan, a senior priest and craftsman, who is a pedophile. His attempts to seduce novices while the rest of the establishment turn a blind eye towards it is a reflection of current events. It is not gratuitous and is integral to the story in the way it affects Wynn/Kharios by debasing him. Ossan ends up being possessed and is the now the prime villain.
Wynn ends up being part of his friend’s death by being a mute spectator and not informing him about Ossan. He betrays his work gang to ensure his survival. He betrays his friends. In any other book, it will be hard to root for Wynn, but given the circumstances described in the book, we can understand why he behaves that way. Wynn starts his journey back to the light (literally and figuratively) towards the end of the book.
I found the portion with the spirits and possession to be the weakest portion of the book. Until then, it was interesting to see how the story would evolve. After Ossan destroys the rings and releases the wraiths (which are actually the souls of long dead priests), the book becomes predictable.
Originally published at Digital Amrit.