Author: Mike Shackle
Title: We Are The Dead
Overall Rating: 5/5
I received a copy of We Are the Dead from Gollancz in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts and opinions in this post are entirely my own.
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.
It’s my stop on the blog tour! And boy am I pleased to be on this one. I first heard about this book attending the Gollancz preview party earlier in the year, and knew I needed this book in my life. If that sentence sounded familiar it’s because I used very similar when introducing you to my blog post for Sanctuary by V.V. James. Basically Gollancz are killing it with books right now!
First of all there is a map. And this is an instant selling point for a book.
We are introduced to 3 of the 5 characters who provide narrative in the introductory section of the book; set six month prior to the main story this is the story of the enemy winning. Tinnstra is a Shulka in training, but a coward and in serious trouble for abandoning her comrades in the arena exercise; Jax is a leader of the Shulka and gearing up to once again fend off the Egril; Dren is having the time of his life as a young man roaming the streets of his city after a day-job fishing with his father, uncle, and cousin.
The intro is excellent at introducing these characters, but quickly moves on to the action and once it starts, thanks to the 5 POVs, it does not let up. I was instantly gripped by the story with its vibrant scenery descriptions and the mysteriously powerful enemy.
After a couple of chapters we skip to “six-months-later” and for the rest of the book we then follow a day by day account over the next 8 days of chaos and rebellion. We are also quickly introduced to the other characters; Yas – a cleaner for the Skulls (Egril) and just trying to make ends meet and protect her young son; and Darus who is out only insight into the mind of a skull but who provides an excellent account being one of their Chosen (elite warriors). He’s an absolutely remarkable villain and character, and having his point of view narrated like the rest of them is one of the main things I love about this book. It’s rare to see a villain’s POV narrated or portrayed but here it adds an extra layer of sympathy for Jia’s people; he is a real monster, but introduced and narrated so well.
I said earlier that this book throws you right in the deep end of the action, but due to the fact we are following many different stories throughout this book it doesn’t seem overcrowded; reading through the multiple POVs means there is a natural ebb and flow to the story. One thing I did love was the proximity of characters; they’re mostly in the same city and so going between characters you’d see one pop up very close to another, or immediately after another had just been in that location; never quite meeting but it really brought the city to life.
The development of the characters primarily happens here, they are incredibly well introduced at the start of the book, then there is a bit of a lull before we see them start to emerge as individuals and step up to complete what is asked or required of them. I loved reading the internal conflicts as the characters are torn between standing up and fighting or giving up as all hope dwindles.
Magic seems to play a large role in the background of this story; with very little in the foreground save the very beginning and end of the book, there is little room to explore it, but it’s an important and exciting factor to the story.
The events in the middle of the book are perfectly concluded with the right amount of finalising the storylines whilst still making room for the next book in the series. I still need book #2 right now but I can honestly say that the ending to We Are the Dead is hugely satisfying.
I don’t really know what more to say without giving away the book but I was hugely impressed with how professionally this book was ended. And from start to finish I was entertained and entranced by this epic fantasy.
Tinnstra: I’m so glad her character improves over time because whilst I initially felt sorry for her, it got a bit old. I was worried that her character would never find her feet but gradually and – kudos to the author – very naturally, she did.
Dren: Kind of liked his guy at the start and I sense big things coming for him; I started to see his immaturity and recklessness later in the book but THAT ENDING. I’m really looking forward to reading more of his story in the next book.
Jax: A steady character and a respected on by both myself and many cast members in the book. He provides a more level-headed and calm narrative which is a credit to his experience and maturity compared to many of the other characters.
Yas: A likeable character and one with so much heart. I really rooted for her from the beginning, I’m not sure she’s my favourite, but I certainly admire her courage and determination.
Darus: I spoke a lot about him before but I adored having an Egril point of view in this book; it added an edge and shock factor and probably tipped it from 4.5 stars to 5.
Narrative and Plot:
I love this narrative, and I’m not sure how to explain why it’s so good it just is. It’s concise, and avoids too much “flowery” description yet still provides the level of detail necessary for the reader to form the scenery in their mind’s eye. I felt fully immersed in this world while I was reading it and despite the pure horror of the Skulls and the situation of Jia’s people, I didn’t want to leave. It’s an absolutely spellbinding story. I loved the magic in this too; there is lots of talk but we don’t really see a huge amount demonstrated, but when we do it’s either beautiful; providing a period of tranquillity as the book-world stops to admire its beauty, or terrifying, but captivating either way.
Rating and Summary:
There is no hesitation when I step up and give this book the full 5/5 stars; it’s gripping and terrifying all at the same time, and I felt connected and invested in each and every one of the characters’ stories. It felt realistic, it flowed extremely well, and it was just captivating. I need book #2 now!
A huge thank you to Gollancz publishing for the review copy and for the opportunity to be on this blog tour.