The Armored Saint by Myke Cole

Rating 6.5/10
Has all the makings of a solid grimdark fantasy epic

Myke Cole’s The Armored Saint is a 200-page novella that introduces The Sacred Throne trilogy and has all the makings of a solid grimdark fantasy epic. It features an oppressed people, religious crusaders who overstep their power, a rebellious teenager, forbidden love, unlawful magic, and even an engine-powered mech suit! The cover grabbed my attention immediately: our young, angry hero wearing this mechanical suit and seeking vengeance. It ticks a lot of interesting boxes and I was excited to dive in. However, while I did enjoy several portions of the story, this book didn’t entirely work for me.

The novella felt like several disparate stories packed together into one narrative. The first few chapters were certainly intriguing, as we meet the hero Heloise and her father Samson on a business trip to Hammersdown. In a few short pages, we learn that wizardry is banned in this world, and a religious sect of flail-wielding crusaders called The Order acts as the Emperor’s army, smiting anyone and everything that may have come into contact with a potential magic user. The common belief is that a wizard who uses magic with have a portal open through their eyeball to the Veil dimension, where a devil will be pulled through into their world, wreaking havoc and death and destruction. That being mentioned, no one has ever met a devil and has lived to tell the tale. The Order uses fear as a weapon, though no actual proof of these deviled horrors has been seen for generations. When Heloise and Samson arrive in Hammersdown, they witness something potentially magic-related that could threaten their town and their lives.

At this point, I was all-in on what appeared to be an exciting and swiftly-moving adventure that could go in any number of directions. Expectations were set, and I was buckled in yet the story then takes the first of multiple sharp tonal shifts in the narrative. Through a combination of Heloise’s defiance and stupidity, her family must hide from an enemy in their hometown. I won’t go into too many details, but I had a few problems with the decisions our heroes made that put them in this situation. Above all, this sequence of hiding lasted the for the vast majority of the book. What started as a seemingly epic adventure turned into a game of hide-and-seek that lasted far too long. The descriptions became redundant, the feelings and emotions were repeated, and the life-or-death decision-making was curious, to put it mildly. If that wasn't enough, a forbidden love story felt shoehorned in the middle of this act. It seemed to be a strange moment in the story to develop this type of character drama, and again this tonal shift felt unusually abrupt.

I was impressed with the tales finale, as it hearkened back to the tone that was introduced in the first few chapters. There were a couple of genuinely shocking moments and some pulse-pounding action scenes that subverted my expectations. The story ended on a strong note, and I’ll more than likely continue with this series as I’m curious about which directions it will lead readers next. I do believe that the choppy plotting and the uneven, prolonged second act have made it difficult for me to give The Armored Saint a higher overall rating. To conclude, I still believe many readers who are fans of military grimdark fantasy will find a lot to enjoy here.

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