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.
Review by Adam Weller
The Armored Saint
The Sacred Throne #1
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A warhammer inspired fantasy that tackles big themes but falls flat on execution. I was copiously baited to get this book after laying eyes on that nice-looking cover, which in turn further led me to fall an innocent victim to the hype that was circulating the web around it. The majority of ARC reviewers were showering this book with unprecedented praise that left me no choice but to jump on the bandwagon and hope for an enjoyable ride. What I experienced, however, was none other than the true for word definition of a hot mess. Who among us can really resist the premise of a medieval setting, elite soldiers sporting mechanical armors and a whole lot of demon slaying? Not many I presume. Yet, this book somehow managed to butcher these winning ingredients and make a dreadful porridge out of them. The story revolves around a teenage girl named Heloise and her journey to figure out herself and ultimately her ascension from zero to hero, making a stand against the evils of the world to protect the people she cares about. The story starts off strong as we're quickly introduced to the fanatical religious faction that is running rampant; The Order. This little encounter sets the tone for the entire book and catapults the story snowballing everything into motion. In that instance, we're acquainted with the prevailing grimness and biblical oppression that is taken for granted in the Emperor's domain. The people are helpless, the authorities in power are corrupt, and hope is a rare currency. Portraying these circumstances vividly is one of the few redeeming factors this book has. However, as the story goes onward, a sense of intrigue begins to slowly build up throughout the book that eventually grows into outright confusion as worldbuilding is never elaborate nor comprehensive enough to paint a whole canvas. Information is scarce and you're provided very little to help you make sense of what is going on, resulting in an impediment that breaks immersion and makes it difficult to connect with the world and its surroundings. Similarly, the characters are one-dimensional cardboard cutouts unscrupulously produced to fill the background. The protagonist being the main culprit was rather whiney, unlikeable and instigated instant teeth-grinding with her poorly thought dialogues. I was even at a point where I was rooting for her early demise, and that's never a good thing when you're supposed to sympathize and foster an emotional bond with that character. Everyone else is either a dreary housewife, a bland official of some capacity, or a tedious peddler of trades. Moreover, the inferior expression of emotions doesn't help matters one bit. Myke Cole seemed to particularly struggle in making anything stick or sound remotely relatable. Almost every single tide of emotions that were represented had been infuriatingly tethered to a reaction in the character's stomach. I don't know about you, but I can't remember the last time my stomach made any movements in response to something I was going through other than on the mornings preceded by a heavy taco consumption the night before. Logistics is another thing that doesn't make the slightest of sense in this book. The army is apparently tied in a war somewhere, which you only get the most minimal of hints about, whereas the town's blacksmith, had been commisioned to fashion the legendary suits of armor the military employs in their efforts. Yet, why wasn't the blacksmith summoned to work from a more convenient outpost that is closer in proximity than a what appears to be an out-of-the-way village? Wouldn't they be better off if they didn't need to transport this heavy machinery all the way to the war zone? And if the area of conflict was indeed around the corner, why does no one seem at all concerned? In contrast, the fight scenes were full of action, extravagant in violence and excessive brutality, making them exorbitantly exciting to go through. There were even times where I had to close my eyes for a second or two, simply to process the poignant images forming in my head. Additionally, the fatalistic repercussions placed on the over usage of magic was an element that I found most interesting. In conclusion, this is a book that suffers from an identity crisis; some parts read like a YA especially the romantic bits, when others read like an adult fantasy with no decent balance in between. There's a great book buried somewhere underneath this rubble, unfortunately, we won't be able to see it come to life.
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