Revenant Winds by Mitchell Hogan (The Tainted Cabal #1)

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.  

7.8/10 - Adam Weller

Revenant Winds brings us into a world on the cusp of disaster. Behind the scenes, the Tainted Cabal work to bring back Nysrog, a demon Lord twisted into insanity by his banishment back to hell thousands of years ago. Supposedly holding back the darkness are various religious and sorcerous factions, themselves beset by scheming and politicking, hidden agendas and uncertain alliances. And into this mess, three people are thrown, with limited information and hindered at every turn, they might just have to save the world, if they can. 

The most effective component of the book is the character development, each person demonstrating individuality, realistic emotions, and unique motivations that at times complement or clash with the others in the group. For me the most memorable were Aldric and Niklaus. Despite Niklaus’ tendency to obsess about his groin every time his goddess crosses his mind (yawn) and Aldric’s face flushing so many times I started to fear for the condition of his skin and the inevitable problems ahead thanks to his high blood pressure, they are both truly fascinating characters. Of the two Aldric is that bit easier to love. His struggle to find a place for himself in the framework of society, made almost impossible by conflicting obligations to his family, his guild, and his Church, mean that he is rejected and isolated at every turn. His beliefs form the core of his being but as the book progresses they are challenged by revelations and alternatives, making it all the more essential that he understands why his god has gifted him with power and how he is meant to use it. Exploited by his Church for his sorcerous talents yet shunned for the same reason, his personal morality and determination to ‘do what’s right’ make him the heart of the novel. Niklaus, not so much. His sexual obsession with his dark goddess, selfishness, clear lack of any ethical considerations, and murder of innocents ensure he’s unlikeable. At first. Even so, he engenders some weird kind of admiration, partly because of his ridiculously awesome swordplay, partly because we get the sense that there is more to him, in the lost memories of his past especially. Maybe because it’s easy to see he’s being manipulated as much as others in the book and certainly for a lot longer. Maybe also because he’s a long way from being the biggest arsehole on the block and he’s got a killer sense of mocking humour to boot. His story forms probably the most engaging process of character evolution in the book and yeah, he got me by the end. 

There last of the main three, Kurio, was just as well drawn if not quite as appealing, becoming less independent and proactive as the story progresses. Considering her role as a master thief and some stunning revelations about her past, she was under utilised and had an underwhelming set of interactions with the other main characters, especially in the last part of the book when the action kicked up a gear and she almost disappeared. She was, however, one of the many interesting and varied female characters who populated the book, some with the kind of power and presence that dominated the page. Unfortunately, in this world that might not save you. There are a lot of people who end up dead. More than expected actually. Mitchell Hogan isn’t afraid to Game-of-Thrones his main characters in to the afterlife, never mind the human fillers… I mean… supporting cast. Many end up as yummy treats for the Dead-eyes, just one of the fun creatures who populate the place and want to eat you alive. Or dead. As a horde, they’re pretty terrifying, but hardly register on the scale of what’s coming. (Demons are coming) The scenes of brutal, bloody battle are a delight to behold, tense and filled with the screams of the dying. Top marks for these bits, that’s for sure. 

Now there are some issues, primarily that of pacing. The book takes a good while to get going and even when it does, there are scenes which needed to be tighter or cut altogether. The majority of the plot was crammed into the last section and it suffered for it, feeling patchy and leaving things unanswered. And i’m not going to lie, I’m pretty narked by some of the losses. Some characters were built up for ages then literally tossed away in a few sentences with few or no consequences. It killed some of the finale’s impact, with the conveyer belt of people being thrown out numbing me to any real feeling by the end. Ooops there goes another one. LOL. Nevertheless, this is a world that’s only given up some of its secrets, keeping more than enough mystery to have me eagerly awaiting what comes next. 

Read for 
SPFBO 2018

8/10 - Emma Davis

8/10 A rich world with a deep history to explore, full of compelling mysteries, conflicting religions, and unusual characters.

Reviews by and Emma Davis

Revenant Winds reader reviews

7.9/10 from 1 reviews

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