Book Review: Pale Kings – by Micah Yongo

Lost Gods #2

Fantasy

Angry Robot; August 13, 2019

369 pages (ebook)

3.5 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to both NetGalley and Angry Robot. All opinions are my own.

Beware spoilers for Lost Gods! If you haven’t read it, well… I honestly wouldn’t recommend it. But if you want to maybe just skip to the summary at the end.

I read Lost Gods earlier this year as an intro to Micah Yongo’s world. But Pale Kings leaves a much better impression, acts like a much better series debut. Nothing to do about it, though, other than to read it.

Following the events of the first book, the Brotherhood of the Shedaím has been decimated. Ish. Decimated-ish (which I’ll address later). Anyway, after unearthing a powerful secret, the organization has been rocked to its very foundations. Daneel, following his betrayal and refusal to kill a child, shepherds said child—Noah—north in an effort to escape those that would still see him dead. Josef, still loyal to the Brotherhood, moves to protect the King, Sidon, who now sees enemies in every shadow. Beset by doubts, in fear for his life, Josef must help him before Sidon is lost to his own paranoia, or worse, is proven right. Neythan and Arianna travel south to the Summerlands in an attempt to translate the magi scroll. Caleb accompanies them, but grows more impatient by the day—those that saw his family dead still remain alive, and are growing more and more distant. Joram, exiled son of a dead king, is destined for greatness. So say the god that he dreams of, so say the voices that guide him. And yet with assassins and traitors all about, who can trust in fate or magic? For the gods are restless, and the fabled Pale Kings are said to once more walk the lands…

First off, and most importantly, technically Pale Kings is the sequel to Lost Gods. The character progression, the timeline—makes sense. Other things—like the story—seem completely different. You do not—NOT—have to read Lost Gods for Pale Kings to make sense. I read them both, and Lost Gods still doesn’t make complete sense to me. But, some debuts are just like that.

Speaking of the Shedaím, it is stated in the prologue that there are but four surviving members of the Brotherhood left: Josef, Neythan, Arianna, and Daneel. And yet over the course of the text, we run into other Shedaím all the bloody time. Even in this same prologue, it’s mentioned that Daneel is being hunted by the remnants of the Shedaím.

A very debatable aspect of scifi and fantasy is realism. Or, does the story feel like it could really happen? Obviously, since a lot of the elements in the setting, in the world, in the story are by nature fantastical… well, many would argue that realism in the story doesn’t matter. For example, something like prophecy or fate can be utilized to drive the story forward by the simple explanation that “it was all destined to be”. Occasionally, an author might need a trick—to get a character out of danger, or bring one back from death, or whatever—to progress the story. Sometimes this can be done with a simple stroke of good luck. Other times, the character may act out of character in order to preserve their own life, something that can be chalked up to fear or panic. Further still, it can be as easy as attributing something to destiny or fate or prophecy. An experienced author knows not to overuse these tricks, as the story can begin to feel improbable, unrealistic or just plain ridiculous. Micah Yongo may yet be an outstanding author, but he is not yet experienced.

This happens a lot in Pale Kings—especially towards the end. It’s explained away as previously unseen magic, previously unheard of technology, fate, luck, more luck, the will of the gods, and sometimes isn’t even addressed. While not a deal-breaker, it is something that I found annoying; an impediment to my enjoyment, a distraction from the story.

I enjoyed the story a lot more than Lost Gods. Sure, I found fault in Pale Kings, but on the whole, it was quite a bit better than the first one. We’ve ditched the whole “noble assassin” thing, and the frame-up/revenge thing, and I’m firmly of the mind that that’s for the better. I complained that the first story was one giant cliché, something that I cannot say about the second. While the plot had its flaws, it really was much better. Minus the Epilogue. If I’d’ve written this thing, I would’ve done a much worse job. But—BUT—I probably would’ve skipped the Epilogue as it really does nothing helpful. Left a bit of a sour taste, to be honest.

I really enjoyed the characters in this book—and not just the ones that controlled POV chapters. Actually, the whole world seems to have fleshed out quite a bit. Yongo’s always been fastidious in his description, but now it led me to picture a deep, vibrant world filled with interesting, unique people—instead of the detailed world filled with hollow sacks of flesh that Lost Gods displayed.

Another problem I had with Lost Gods was its pacing. In general, this is another aspect that Pale Kings improves upon with the classic slow build, hook, and sprint to the finish—with the exception of Neythan. His chapters continued their unevenness, with random and often confusing changes in pace.

TL;DR

I quite enjoyed Pale Kings despite its flaws. It was much better than the previous installment, which you really don’t need to read in order to understand #2. With a clear and detailed world, inhabited by unique and interesting characters and a story all but bereft of cliché, Pale Kings is a marked improvement upon Yongo’s debut. One I’d recommend reading if you need to buy it, even. It’s not perfect, with a less than believable story and a disappointing ending, but all in all, provides an entertaining adventure and raises my hopes for the third installment.

Book Review: Lost Gods – by Micah Yongo

Lost Gods #1

Fantasy, Epic, Dark Fantasy

Angry Robot; July 3, 2018

432 pages

2.5 / 5 ✪

Lost Gods is the debut fantasy for Brit fantasy author Micah Yongo. It features a setting and world-building reminiscent of feudal Africa, centering around five young warriors of the Shedaím—a brotherhood of assassins that help control the nearby tribes and kingdoms through, well, killing. In particular, the brunt of the story follows Neythan, one of the initiates who is raised in the early stages of Lost Gods and given his first assignment. All five are raised, in fact, and prepare to depart Ilysia.

Twins Josef and Daneel are the first to depart, as their assignments lie farther distant. The other three—Neythan, Yannick, Arianna—follow soon after for Dumea, where Neythan is to kill the chief scribe’s wife. A day from the village, however, Neythan’s priorities change.

He awakens to find himself covered in blood. The bed and room in which he slept are a mess and in a chair nearby lies Yannick, his best friend, his throat roughly cut. Arianna is nowhere to be seen. Men break into the room, and upon seeing the body, finger him for the crime. Neythan eludes them, escaping the room and seeking out Arianna, whom he believes is the true killer.

His search for Arianna leads him out of the town to a river, and to a Watcher, a mythical being of great power and sight. It also leads him to Caleb, an unlikely companion. But Arianna eludes him. Neythan’s chase will take him across the five realms, where he has adventures, does favors for favors, and attempts to seek out the heart of the mystery.

In addition to Neythan, there are three other POVs—Yasmin, wife of a local governor; Daneel, another young assassin of the Shedaím, whom, along with his brother is tasked with killing Yasmin’s husband, Hassan; and Sidon, the young king of Hanezda.

I found Lost Gods very cliché. The noble assassin. Being framed for a murder he didn’t commit. It certainly wasn’t anything I’d call new or groundbreaking. Combined with characters that lacked depth, a story that doesn’t live up to its ambitions, and a mystery that was often not explained well. There were several times that I kept reading but was in the dark about what exactly was going on, and rereading didn’t seem to do any good. I will say that the world’s description was lush and unique, though its characters lacked the same definition. So many of them just seemed to be there to inhabit the space, while the POV characters moved around them.

Another main issue I had with this was its pacing. So often Neythan is described as being impatient or upset that he needs to find Arianna, only to look off at something completely random and then spend the next couple pages describing it. Or entertaining a flashback that isn’t terribly relevant. Or going drinking. The other POVCs are even worse. The plot is one that seems to demand urgency, and yet the characters ignore it. It’s like a chase scene with no running, no panic. Instead like an intense chase-stroll in the park, without any intensity. It just doesn’t make any sense.

The mystery made Lost Gods readable. While not great, there were a couple twists that I didn’t see coming. Although, as I mentioned before, the mystery itself was often not explained well, paving the way for many things I couldn’t’ve seen coming. The POV characters (well, the young Shedaím, at least) were interesting and deep. A few even underwent character growth and development. But not all—not enough, even.

All in all, Lost Gods was an underwhelming debut. A story that tried to little, and mostly failed when it did try. Bland, uninteresting characters detracted from a lush and ofttimes vibrant world. I’d read another, but don’t think I’d pay much for it.

The Lost Gods saga will continue with Pale Kings. It comes out August 13, 2019.