34023133The temples of the Forgefather have fallen. The clerics and defenders that could once be found across the nine lands are no more. Priests huddle in the great temple, clinging to the echoes of their lost religion. But the Father has fallen silent. There are none who still hear his voice.

The mines of Aspiration lie far below the temple’s marble halls. Slaves toil in the blackness, striving to earn their way into the church and the light. Wynn has been sold into this fate, traded for a handful of silver. In the depths of the mines, where none dare carry flame, he must meet his tally or die. But there are things that lurk in that darkness, and still darker things within the hearts of men.

When the souls bound to the great forge are released in a failed ritual, one novice flees down into the darkness of the mines. The soulwraiths know only hunger, the risen know only hate. In the blackest depths Kharios must seek a light to combat the darkness which descends.

Source Format Pages Publisher Genre Publication Date
Author ebook 404 Fallen Leaf Press Fantasy June 30th, 2017

*Many thanks to Graham Austin-King for providing me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.*

I have to admit now, that sometimes I am not the most observant when it comes to book blurbs… I read them, but then tend to not think about them again in terms of keeping track of what’s going on in the book and finding the connections in between what was promised and what’s being delivered. As such, when I came to the part about the risen, I was completely taken by surprise! So, that was kind of awesome… hehehe…

Anyway, to sum off the book with one word in its entirety… is impossible for me. I can’t. I’ll use three words instead: dirty, claustrophobic and dark;Β asΒ most of the story takes place in the mines of Aspiration situated below the lavish temple of the Forgefather. Worth mentioning straight away that while the plot and the conflict are created around a rather unique premise (more on this later), the fact that where religion is involved, the deceitful and corrupt nature is a standard issue. Give a man power and they abuse it. Life’s simple fact! But that simple, tried and tested conflict was made into something different by Austin-King, by creating a religion unlike that of which are found in our real life. I’m sure, some blacksmiths are so dedicated and passionate about their calling, they would claim their profession to be a religion in its own, but in Faithless blacksmithing got a whole new level of structure.

The starting of the fires, the placing of kindling, the melting of metal and folding glyphs of meaning into it- all these tasks were rituals of significant importance and often accompanied by chants. It was rather mesmerising. The dedication with which those ‘rituals’ were carried out with made me forget about the fact that it’s HOT, it’s hotter than hell. Not only from the fires, but also from keeping the bellows going… dirty, sticky work for some. For others, priests and devotees, it is a complete show of loyalty to the faith.

But let’s go back to the ironically named Aspiration. Deep in the ground, Aspiration is like a city of its own. When you live in Aspiration, you may as well give up all hope of ever getting out. Quite frankly, it’s a bit like a concentration camp but for people who have been there a long time or even born in it, it makes no difference. Depending on their job roles, certain ‘classes’ have developed, meaning even though all workers are in dire conditions, some people have it better of than others. Essentially, any and every day in Aspiration is a day filled with hard physical work for the good of the temple and it’s god. The usual method of fear and tyranny is used to keep the people in check so rebellion is out of the question unless you risk your life, no matter how desolate it is…

It is so, we meet Wynn who ends up being ‘sold’ to the temple’s mining cause by his father due to difficulties on their farm. As we follow Wynn through the dusty mines and days full of backbreaking work, we learn more and more about Aspiration’s rules and sub-culture. It’s a dog eat dog world where every team of workers has to meet a tally or face getting whipped under public scrutiny. Meet your tally, your safe and you get paid. Meet your tally beyond expectation and from every team a member can have a chance to work their way up to the temple to become an acolyte to a priest. It’s a system, folks! Not much different to what we have going on IRL, if you ask me! Perfect for inspiration though as proven by Faithless πŸ˜›

Alongside Wynn, we meet his teammates and others who all add that needed depth to the story. There is plenty going on in the darkness of Aspiration. If you have the means you can hire a Listener to come and talk to the walls and find gold for your team, but beware- there’s voices in the darkness. And when the voice gets you, you can say bye-bye to ever coming out of the tunnels.

As you may have gathered by now, Aspiration truly is a dark and suffocating experience. Having the opportunity to rise above most people and advance to the temple as an acolyte in the temple sounds like a god-send by the Forgefather himself and yet, it comes with its own dark presence in the face of Father Ossan who likes to take advantage of boys, the dirty fecker! Respected in the temple, Father Ossan is ambitious but easily classified as scum of the Earth. I hated him.

One of the acolytes training under Ossan’s hand is Kharios. His personal journey in the temples was building up to something, I could feel it… and when the mega-twist of holy crap surprise came, I saw 80% of the book in a whole new light. Having made a lot of cowardish mistakes, you can find it easy to dislike Kharios… the fact remains however, that he is one of the bigger pieces in the story.

***

While the writing style was easy to follow throughout with prose and dialogue serving its purpose and not making me feel overloaded with information, and there being enough unexpected turns in the story, I did feel towards the end that it started to slow in pace. Maybe it was my claustrophobia kicking in and I just wanted to be done with the dark tunnels. Maybe I simply could not wait to find out how all of the main characters were going to be connected during the final act. Maybe I want to use that glorious hammer (as seen on the cover) on Father Ossan…

I can’t deny though, that the premise of the book is certainly worth your interest and there is plenty of grimness to keep a darker fantasy lover blood-o-meter going steady. Β I absolutely love what Austin-King has built around the art that is blacksmithing- the profession has long called out for a medium to remind us how cool it can be.

I have purposefully left out mentioning one of the bigger pivotal events in the book, so what I have covered in my review is not the be all, end all of the whole picture. There is a lot more to discover in terms of characters, plot and twists while indulging in the great attention to detail which has been placed in creating the setting and the world with it’s restrictive rules.

Faithless on Goodreads | Amazon UK | USAΒ