Mike Shackle has quickly shot up my TBR list after fellow reviewers have been raving about his debut novel “We Are the Dead”. Mr. Shackle delivers a knock-out in his first book and lovers of grimdark fantasy will feel right at home. The second book in the Last War series, A Fool’s Hope, is set to be released in December 2020. Let’s get the conversation started on not only what makes We Are the Dead a great read, but a fast-paced blood bath that you will be unable to put down.
In the land of Jia, magic has long since been depleted from the world, except for the special few. The elite warriors, known as the Shulka, stand guard at the walls dividing Jia from the barbarian Egril. For generations the Shulka, elite warriors of Jia, have successful defended the walls Egril until one day it all changes. The Egril ambush the wall with magic users and demons, winning the war before it even started. The enemy has taken over the land with an iron fist and killing thousands in its wake. This is just the “prologue” of the novel as we are launched into this world of heartbreak, terror, and persecution.
The premise of We Are the Dead reminded my a little bit of when I first read Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. What would happen if the enemy actually won? What would the fallouts be an how would the people live in this brutal world? This book is by no means another Mistborn novel as Mr. Shackle has much more blood, death, and flat out gruesome torture scenes that left me a little shaken. This will bother some SFF readers but fans of Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence Broken Empire series will look forward to the pain.
This story follows multiple POV characters written in the first person. Taking place over an eight day span about six months after the invasion of the Egril, we find ourselves in the heart of Jia. Whispers of a rebellion are heard throughout the land and we are thrown right into the middle of it. First we follow Tinnstra, a disgraced daughter of a shulka leader living in fear of the Egril. The Egril who will punish or kill anyone they feel is a non believe in their God. Tinnstra can be described as a coward to her peers, but we as the readers grow to sympathize with her pain and suffering. She eventually finds herself a member of the rebellion as her story arc takes a great turn through the finale. We also follow Drem, a reckless and hard headed member of the rebellion who will do anything to get his vengeance. Anyone Drem has ever cared about was either banished, imprisoned, or executed. Can his rage be quenched for the good of the rebellion.
I can only describe the characterization as a tale of two halves. The first half of the book, we are learning about the characters fears, motivations, and level’s of determination in making a change to the status quo and the pacing of the book reflects that. Slow in the beginning, it really picks up the pace around the half way point towards a dramatic climax. Mr. Shackle pulled out his inner Houdini and performed an incredible act of magic with his characters. I did a complete 180 from feeling so-so on Tinnstra and Drem to absolutely loving them by the end. I haven’t had this compete turn around with one character let alone two since Jamie Lannister in A Song of Ice and Fire. Book 2 can’t come soon enough.
There is not much more I can say about Mr. Shackles debut novel without going into spoilers. This was brutal, gory, gritty, and full of so much heard. You can’t write a debut novel much better than this. Mr. Shackle, I am in it for the long haul and a job well done sir!