Book Review: Trampling in the Land of Woe

NOTICE: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, which reads as follows:

trampling-in-the-land-of-woeDetails:

Title: Trampling in the Land of Woe (The Patron Saints of Hell #1)

Author: William L.J. Galaini

Publisher: Scarlet River Press

Release Date: September 14, 2015

Genre(s): Fantasy, Steampunk, Horror, Adventure

Pages: 204 (eBook)

Synopsis:

As World War I rages on Earth, Hephaestion, lauded general and soul mate of Alexander the Great—and now a citizen of Purgatory—embarks on the darkest, most challenging journey of his existence: descending into The Pit of Hell to rescue his king. Chased by Hellbeasts, hunted by Jesuits, and aided by unexpected allies, Hephaestion tests the bounds of loyalty, dedication, and even death as he faces the greatest demon of all: himself. A blend of steampunk and Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, Trampling in the Land of Woe drives through the cobblestoned streets of New Dis, soars above The Pit in airships, and then stumbles down into the terror-ridden rings themselves. Steam-powered trains, zeppelins, and ornithopters zoom by in a mash-up of literary proportions, all to answer one question: What will one man do to understand the meaning of love and truth?

What I First Thought:

I’m always up for reading any story that deals with historical events and characters, especially ones that I know and love learning about. I have read stories before with queer characters and I’ve read stories that mentions or briefly show the love between two characters of the same sex. However, I have yet to read a story that focuses solely on a queer main character and their love for another. I’ve been interested in a while, and I’ve really wanted to broaden my personal library with queer fiction, especially after reading Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and getting interested in her other book Carry On. However, I have yet to find the latter and I haven’t had the time (or money) really to comb through the shelves for those kinds of books. So I was rather excited when I was offered a chance to read and review Trampling in the Land of Woe. It was an added bonus that it was about Alexander the Great and his famed lover, and dearest friend, Hespaestion!

Overall Thoughts/Opinions:

The first thing I want to say is daaaaaaaaaamn! This story is overflowing with creativity and imagination that outshines almost everything that I have ever read. The author’s depiction of Hell and how it changed with the times on Earth was absolutely fascinating. I loved how the author mixed old and new technologies together so effortlessly, creating wonderful images of blimps and old fashion naval ships with steel parts.

Galaini’s depiction of Hell and ascension was fascinating to read and  definitely made me think. It was nice to see that characters from any religion could make it into Heaven, really outlining the idea the importance of people’s good deeds in life and not their core beliefs. It was also refreshing to read of people who ascended to Heaven after they spent time in Purgatory or Hell, that where you end up in death doesn’t have to be the eternal. All of these things, while appearing in a work of fiction, are definitely interesting food for thought.

I believe my favorite part of this story was meeting all the various characters that appeared in Heph’s journey. You meet Vikings, Jews, Celts, old Christian abbots, characters from fallen empires, and characters who predate the Egyptians. The minor characters were always fun to read and interesting to read about, especially the female characters. Out of the entire cast of characters, almost all of the female characters that were mentioned were totally over-powered and badass in their own way, with magic, great weaponry, and fantastical tools. I can’t really tell you who my favorite character was without giving any spoilers, but they’re all pretty fantastic and they each had an interesting role to play in the story and Heph’s overall journey through Hell.

Heph’s journey through the story was rather interesting to read, even though his main goal seems to be doomed to fail, even from the start. It was a rather bumpy ride from start to finish, mostly because our Hero has decided to take on a nearly impossible task and everyone keeps telling him that he won’t succeed. Almost everyone he meets tries to persuade him to move on from his love for Alexander, to dissuade him from descending into Hell to find him, but they always help him out in some way. I find that to be rather interesting, because in most books those kinds of characters only serve one purpose and it’s to distract the Hero from their journey. However, most of these characters in Trampling in the Land of Woe are also Heph’s greatest allies and friends, helping him in whatever way they could. Heph’s journey into the deepest parts of Hell was interesting to read because of the characters he met, the people who helped or opposed him, and the wonderfully imaginative depictions of the Rings of Hell. Heph’s personal odyssey to find Alexander the Great was one that I had mixed feelings about, and I’m still not sure whether I cared for it. His travels were rather exciting and wonderful to read, especially with the author’s unique voice and descriptions. However, there was so much build up, build up, build up that when you think you got to the final conflict and it’s over within a few pages, you’re suffering from whiplash, and there’s still more to read. All of the last twenty pages pretty much left me feeling unsettled, which may or may not have been the author’s purpose.

While the resolution of the story was unsettling and still leaving me to wonder how I actually feel about it, I still liked reading about the progress that Heph’s character made. It was interesting to see how his character transformed from being single-mindedly driven to thinking beyond his love and loyalty to Alexander. And while I couldn’t really connect with Hespaestion, his overall character journey was nice to read about.

Final Thoughts:

As my first queer fiction, I enjoyed it and felt that it was rather tame. Overall there’s no romance in this story, just in the flashbacks that Hespaestion has to when he was alive. Those memories were actually rather sweet, for the most part, and I really enjoyed reading about their loving actions and adventures. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone, who like me, wants to broaden their shelves and read something out of the norm for them. It is rather tame in the queer romance, so I believe can serve as a nice stepping stone into harder queer fiction.

The story is rather gory in some places, and I actually squirmed at some of the descriptions. This may be a turn off for some readers, while other may like it. For those sensitive to gore, I would definitely not try to read this before bed if you decide to give this book a try. For those who love gore, this book probably won’t phase you and may prove to be rather fun.

This book is a fantastic read for anyone who wants to get into the Halloween mood. There’s hideous monsters, torture, and grotesque scenes that all really fit with the Hell scenery.

I would also recommend this book to anyone who wants a good, imaginative story. The author’s imagination is spectacular and his writing ability really helps flesh out that imagination. The characters are very unique and come from all walks of life, lending interesting advise and beautiful quotes. Really, this could be a great read for anyone that isn’t squeamish about gore or queer main characters.

Rating:

4/5

Overall this story was fantastic. I loved reading the book, for the most part, and enjoyed all of the minor characters, and the work and creativity that went with it. Galaini had a wonderful writing style and his descriptions of everything were breath taking, making it easy for my brain to paint the story. I would have given Trampling in the Land of Woe full marks, but the conclusion left me unsettled and I just couldn’t relate to Hespaestion. Some of the minor characters I really liked and I related to them more, but their time in the story was too brief for my taste. However, I feel like this story was still pretty good and was definitely not your typical Hero’s Journey. I think I’ll be sticking around and seeing what other books in this series will bring.

Book Review: Sea of Shadows

Sea of Shadows

Details:

Title: Sea of Shadows

Author: Kelley Armstrong

Publisher: HarperCollins

Release Date: April 8th 2014

Pages: 406

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance, Paranormal, Horror

Synopsis:

In the Forest of the Dead, where the empire’s worst criminals are exiled, twin sisters Moria and Ashyn are charged with a dangerous task. For they are the Keeper and the Seeker, and each year they must quiet the enraged souls of the damned.

Only this year, the souls will not be quieted.

Ambushed and separated by an ancient evil, the sisters’ journey to find each other sends them far from the only home they’ve ever known. Accompanied by a stubborn imperial guard and a dashing condemned thief, the girls cross a once-empty wasteland, now filled with reawakened monsters of legend, as they travel to warn the emperor. But a terrible secret awaits them at court—one that will alter the balance of their world forever

My First Thoughts:

Honestly, it was the cover that grabbed me more than anything else. It was not until after I bought the book that I actually read what the story would be about…oops! But from looking at the cover I could tell that it would be a fantasy with more Asian elements than Western, which I don’t see that often, especially in Young Adult books! And for those who can’t tell, I know it took me a while of just staring at the cover like an idiot to figure it out, but the red swirl in the middle has a bird’s head, which may represent the phoenix.

Story Breakdown:

This story has four major characters, well six if you count the animals. Moria and Ashyn are twins from Edgewood that were originally born in the Northern part of the kingdom, they are known as the Keeper and the Seeker. Since birth, these girls have been trained in ways most other girls can’t imagine, like battle field medicine, weapons handling, and rituals to quiet the dead. Yea, that’s right these girls can hear dead people and it’s their job to please them and protect the village people from vengeful spirits. Moria is the Keeper, she and Diago, her Wildcat of the Immortals, are charged with protecting the village of Edgewood from vengeful spirits during the Seeking. Ashyn is the Seeker, she and Tova, her Hound of the Immortals, are responsible for going into the Forest of the Dead and finding the bodies of the criminals sent there to die. When she finds the bodies, she is supposed to perform a ritual to help quiet the damned. The girls may be identical in appearances, but their personalities are completely different. Moria is headstrong, wild, and a bit reckless, taking life into her own hands and living as she pleases. Ashyn, on the other hand, is a shy hopeless romantic wanting a fairytale love but never actually expecting one, and who tries to follow things to the letter and beats herself up if something goes wrong.

The other two main characters are Gavril and Ronan. Gavril Kitsune is a young man from a warrior family sent to Edgewood to guard the Forest of the Dead after his own father, an ex-Marshal, was sent there to die. The Emperor was the one to send Gavril there after convicting his father to death, pretty sick, right? Ronan, the character you meet in the prologue, is a poor thief that was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Him, along with some of his family, gets sent to the Forest of Death to be eaten or killed by the fever there, but he was able to survive.

Every book has underlying themes that aren’t always the main focus of the story, and this book is no exception.

“Anything new is frightening to the superstitious mind”

The beginning of the quote makes an excellent point. Anything new, whether it be food, people, places, or experiences, frighten us because we are creatures of habit. So if something happens to us that we can’t explain right away, we like to jump to conclusions that are usually a bit more creative or imaginary than what actually happened.

“Your coloring is a product of your climate. As are your slow wits.”

Within this insult is a lesson, no matter where you’re from or live, you are a product of the environment around you. Your behavior, speech, beliefs, mannerism, style of dress etc. are shaped by the people around you and the place in which you live. Everything that you gain, usually, makes you best suited for the life you choose, or the life that chooses you.

“Filial piety comes before everything, even obedience to the empire.”

This theme sort of sneaks up at the end, but it really helps tie in the Asian elements in the story. Filial piety, loyalty/respect for one’s father, elders and ancestors, was part of the philosophy of Confucius, which came about during the era of China known as the Hundred Schools of Thought. Basically, it is a philosophy in which you listen to the commands of your father over those of the Emperor. This way of thinking, maybe not in its original form, was really ingrained in Asian cultures and still persists today.

Overall Thoughts/Opinion:

I will admit that I had a little trouble getting into this book, mostly because it had been a while since I read a fantasy novel so I had to change my mind set. After I got into the swing of things though, it was a lot of fun to read. The story has elements of horror that aren’t overly gory, and honestly the author could have put more descriptions behind the gore if they wanted to make their readers squirm. The story reads like a traditional older fantasy, like the ones my dad reads all the time. Unfortunately, because it’s similar to that style of fantasy, I can imagine a lot of complaints of it being too boring or slow. The romance in the book isn’t overflowing or unrealistic, it took the backseat to the other genres for a good majority of the book. Howeveer, there were some people who complained that there wasn’t enough romance in the book. Honestly if your life went to Hell in a handbasket, would you seriously be putting the moves on some guy or would you focus on trying to survive?

I really enjoyed how this fantasy had more Asian elements than Western. Most fantasies that I have read seem to have more European influences, like clothing, mannerisms, scenery, lore, etc. but this book seemed to have very few of them. The capitol of the Empire was described with more Asian styled architecture and place names. Ancestral worship, or respect, was and still is pretty big in Asian cultures around the world. Even a lot of the warrior family names that were mentioned had more Asian influences, like Kitsune or Tatsu. Though, what I found interesting was how the first names of many of the characters mentioned sounded more Western, especially European.

Final Thoughts:

If you are not one for fantasies like The Wheel of Time or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, then you’ll probably find that this story is too long and boring with not enough action to drive you to the end. If you hate cliffhangers, then don’t read it. If you want instant gratification, then don’t even think about picking up the book. But if you love traditional fantasies, don’t mind cliffhangers, and are patient, then this book will probably be a good pick for you.

I really enjoyed this book. I will say that it’s not going on my shelf of ‘Greatest Books Ever’, but the story was worth it. The book was different, definitely not a hardcore fantasy, but enough to introduce younger readers to that part of the genre. And I loved the blending of Asian and Western themes, the story’s version of zombies, and watching the relationships between the characters develop under stress.

Rating(s):

4/5

The story had a great idea with interesting characters and minute details. I can’t say this enough, but I loved the more Eastern/Asian themes in the book because they definitely made this book unique compared to others like it. I found the characters’ reactions and personalities under stress to be pretty accurate and interesting to read. The amount of creativity that went into this story, designing architecture, government, society dynamics, families, creatures, and settings was fantastic. However, I wished that the author spent a little more time describing certain actions, mostly the more ‘gory’ bits of the book. Armstrong uses enough detail to give a rough outline, but I think that adding a little more detail would have played up more of the horror side of the genres. I would have loved to have enough detail for the zombies and the other creatures that they fight so that I could be scared along with the characters, but I can also see why she didn’t do that.

Related Review(s)/Book(s):

coming soon!