The Gods of Men by Barbara Kloss
The pairing of music and magic has always fascinated me. I believe that there is a type of magic in music, as it can stir emotions and inspire imaginations like nothing else can. When I learned that Barbara Kloss’ The Gods of Men featured a music-based magic system, I set my expectations high. Although music didn’t have quite as big a role in the book as I had anticipated, I still ended up enjoying this book for a multitude of reasons. It was a welcome surprise, and an excellent capstone to the 20+ SPFBO4 books I’ve read over the past year.
The story beats may feel familiar: a young girl named Imari is inadvertently responsible for a flute-based tragedy -- yes, a flute-based tragedy -- at home, so she runs away, changes her identity, and swears never to access her magic again. A decade passes, and Imari, who now calls herself Sable, starts to realize that her past is finally catching up with her. Meanwhile, Jeric the Wolf Prince, a Jamie Lannister-type who is fiercely loyal to his country while committed horrible acts in its name, is sent to retrieve the famous healer Sable from the dangerous Wilds to help cure his dying father, the king. As one can expect, things do not go according to plan.
There are several things that this book does very well. It is tightly written, noticeably polished, and moves very quickly. At times, almost too quickly; perhaps the book would have benefitted more from concentrating on character development beyond just Jeric and Imari as there’s an interesting cast of side players that I wish I got to know a little better. I was impressed at the amount of plot this book cycled through, and it handled its mysteries and reveals at a generous pace. Kloss writes some wonderful chemistry between Imari and Jeric, and (mild spoiler, but you know how these things go) there’s a steamy hook-up session that was one of the most alluring erotic scenes in memory.
There weren’t any major negatives to this book. I think the worst thing I could say about it is that it doesn’t necessarily offer much innovation to the genre, but I don’t think it tries to – what it sets out to do, it does very well. The Gods of Men is solid, engaging story with strong world-building and history, an interesting magic system (that I hope we see much more of in the sequel) and a magnetic relationship that binds it all together. On one hand the book felt like it could have been expanded a bit more, but on the other hand it left me wanting more. All in all, Kloss has earned a new fan and I look forward to seeing where her ideas take us all next.
8.0 / 10
-- Adam Weller
All it takes is one song to change Sable’s life… and end her younger sister’s. Hiding in the Wilds, surviving on her healing skills, and causing far too much trouble for someone apparently trying to live quietly, Sable feels the burden of her guilt and the loss of her sister every day. Yet even that precarious life is under threat: she’s being hunted. Her old name and hidden magic is no longer the secret it once was. And there’s more than one enemy coming to claim her. Fighting for her life is going to demand everything she has, including the power that she failed to control once before, a disaster that ended in the death of someone she loved.
Now this is a seriously engaging read. So much so that it even managed to get me through the stress of being stuck in a Kathmandu hospital when I was supposed to be enjoying my holiday. Not an easy task, let me tell you. It makes an immediate impression- easy to read, fast paced, and fun. Saying that, it’s not lightly done. While never losing its vibrancy, the author manages to add an intriguing depth and complexity to both characters and plot. The two main protagonists each have a history that can be called troubling at best, and which combined with their current rather dire circumstances, provide a perfect opportunity for misunderstanding. Their forced companionship and resulting conflict feeds effectively into the larger threads of racism and prejudice that underlie the story. And there’s no attempt to offer easy answers to these darker themes or explain away decisions people have made in the past. The reader is offered enough information to understand, but it’s not framed as a means of justification. People may be a product of their backgrounds, but that does not negate their responsibility for immoral actions. It’s carefully and effectively done. The growth of understanding, compassion, and morality is an essential aspect of the novel, with the situation between between Sable and Jeric a microcosm for the wider world. Their developing relationship mediates the differences tearing apart the societies in which they live and perhaps offers some hope for the future. If that seems a bit fairy tale, don’t worry. Thankfully, this is not one of those love conquers all stories, if anything their feelings for each other are explored as the burden they very clearly are. The positivity is found in the acknowledgement that some people really can change. But not all. This is where the villainy is to be found, in those determined to perpetuate the worst aspects of the past. And also evil things, never forget the evil things.
A cracking read that’s well worth your time.
8.0 / 10
-- Emma Davis
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