Revenant Winds by Mitchell Hogan

Rating 7.8/10
A rich world with a deep history to explore, full of compelling mysteries, conflicting religions, and unusual characters.

There’s an old Yiddish saying, “Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht” that translates to “Man Plans, and God Laughs.” It warns that life is full of surprises. In one moment, you may think you have a solid grasp on who you are, where you’re going, and your value in society. Then you find out that everything you’ve been taught has been a lie, and you must reevaluate your motivations and goals or else get swept aside by the torrent of fate. Such is the case for the three protagonists of Mitchell Hogan’s Revenant Winds, an impressive and intriguing start to a series that deftly weaves magic, religion, and demonic vengeance into a story about seeking your identity and true purpose in life.

We rotate through three main points-of-view, though we spend the most time on Aldric, a warrior, priest, healer, and sorcerer. A jack-of-all-trades but a master of none, he is a unique protagonist since he is a far cry from anything resembling a “chosen one.” His magic reservoir is small and comparatively weak, and he actively avoids tapping into his dusk-tide powers (the yang to the protective yin magic). Facing inner conflict and the inability to be accepted by his family, his church, or sorcerer’s guild, the one thread he can lean on is his faith. But when that faith becomes tested and his long-held beliefs are challenged, he must reexamine his convictions or die trying.

Niklaus is a mercenary, the Chosen Sword of Lady Sylva Kalisia, goddess of pain and suffering. He was granted the gift of immortal life by the goddess centuries ago and has lived to serve her ever since. Although Lady Sylva only appears to Niklaus in dreams and visions, Niklaus is driven to interpret and achieve whatever goals the goddess has bestowed upon him. His Machiavellian methods are often cruel and amoral, as he shows no remorse for cutting anyone down who stands in his way. Niklaus is so enamored with the dream of coupling with the goddess that he has taken on a quest to become a god himself, so he can finally rule at her side. Not even the members of Lady Sylva’s church can deter him from achieving his goal through any means necessary.

Kurio is noble’s daughter with a chip on her shoulder who ran away from her rich family to become a thief-for-hire. She carries a double-stacked repeating hand crossbow and isn’t afraid to use it. We first join her during a mission where she’s to recover the contents from a safe and return it to her benefactor. What she finds, however, sets off a course of events that pulls her into one unavoidable nightmare after another. Not only does she learn secrets that puts her very nature into question, but also threatens the survival of everything she’s ever known.

There are quite a few standout aspects to this book. The character-building is strong, and each protagonist has very specific and personal goals, even though they are questing for similar purposes. There’s a neat narrative device that allows the incorporation of flashbacks to help fill in the world’s history and lore without needing to lean on a time jump or an expository info dump. I appreciated how Hogan worked these flashbacks into the story while figuring out a way for them to be narratively relevant to the current character arcs. Also, I especially liked how coincidences are addressed head-on. In many stories, I’ll grant the writer some leeway for the sake of tightening the narrative, but this book attempts to explain some of the larger coincidences as intentional acts from a higher power. Since religion plays such a major role in this story, this tactic felt more of a bonus than a crutch.

But there's also a couple of drawbacks. Specifically, the book doesn't really take off until the halfway mark, and it also ends without answering very many questions. I'm perfectly fine with cliffhangers, but I felt that there was too much left unanswered, and it left me a bit frustrated. Although the major events at the finale served as a good place to pause the story until the next volume, it left me feeling a bit unfulfilled, as not enough questions were addressed.

This book will appeal to fans of dark fantasy. Some may categorize it as grimdark, as it takes place in a world where even the defenders of humanity feel justified in using torture and enslavement to meet their goals, but there’s a sense of hope that permeates the story as we root for our heroes to never lose sight of what makes them human. There’s an appealing supporting cast of characters I grew to care about, and the various action scenes kept me engrossed. In Revenant Winds, Hogan has created a rich world with a deep history to explore, full of compelling mysteries, conflicting religions, and unusual characters. It feels like we’re just scratching the surface of what’s to come by novel’s end, and I’m eager to see what fates our characters have in store. One thing I do know is that it won’t be according to plan.  

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