Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Review: "Faithless" by Graham Austin-King

Normally I wait until finalists in the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off have been announced before I start reading, but Graham Austin-King’s “Faithless” managed to catch my attention. I now have an early favorite.

Raised on a farm, Wynn finds himself sold into service to the church of the Forgefather after a drought ruins his family’s fortunes. But the church is a broken thing. Their god has abandoned them, and the last remaining remnants of the faith hide in their temple hoping for a miracle and his return.

Wynn soon learns that “service to the church” actually means backbreaking work in the mines of Aspiration, below the temple. It’s a grimy place, at least the part Wynn experiences, where workers often have to defend their finds from other crews and are expected to make their monthly tally or face the lash. Though the church tries to provide hope that the residents of Aspiration can rise to Novice and enter the temple, only a very lucky few actually pass the test, but Wynn may get that opportunity.

Kharios is one of those lucky few, but discovers that life in the temple, while better than in Aspiration, is certainly not much easier. He’s chosen by a surly but powerful priest named Ossan, who drives his novices hard and has a habit of bringing them to his bed. Kharios will have to make some unpleasant choices if he is to move up, but Ossan seems impossible to escape.

One of the most interesting things about “Faithless” to me, is its unusual story structure. In the early going, I found the book entertaining and well-written, but it seemed to be moving in circles a bit. Around the mid-point, when Wynn and Kharios finally come together, things really begin to click into place, though.

On the surface, “Faithless” is a thinly-veiled upbraiding of the modern church. The church of the Forgefather is a faith that has lost its way, lost its believers and covers up things that it should be bringing to the light – familiar laments and accusations. This aspect might turn some religious readers off, but this book is far from anti-religion rhetoric. Instead, it’s a story about finding and restoring faith, but the dark corners have to be explored first.

Austin-King does deliver a very grim and dark tale here, but the darkness is not so much in the world or culture as it is in the people. Though there’s certainly brutal violence and all sorts of unpleasantness, it really boils down to that interior landscape of the characters and the choices they make. The most uncomfortable aspect of the book may be that, at times, it shines a light on that small dark corner of the reader’s soul where that little voice asks, as disgusted as you may be with the character’s decision, would you have truly made a different one in his place?

Any time a book can make you feel uncomfortable, I believe the author has done his or her job well. A story that can elicit a strong emotional reaction or make you stop to think is one worth reading, and “Faithless” does both, and delivers a very good tale to boot.


No comments: