Shadow of a Dead God by Patrick Samphire (Mennik Thorn: Book 1)

Mennik Thorn just wanted to help out a friend, pay back a favour owed. Well, he didn’t want to as such, but Benny won’t take no for an answer. And Nik doesn’t have enough friends to lose even one. Unfortunately, one person’s ‘just give me a hand with this, would ya’ is another person’s nightmare. So when an apparently simple bit of curse breaking turns out to include sneaking into the home of magical royalty... and then escalates in death and destruction... you might expect the favour to be well and truly repaid. But now Nik and Benny are in serious trouble, so much that it’s going to take everything this second-rate mage has to keep them both alive. AND he still has to find a way to pay the rent... A bad day, week, month, and year just got a whole hell of a lot worse.

“Are you going to tell me your plan before we actually break in?”

Benny nodded. “Fair enough. It’s the Feast of Parata.”

I waited a minute for the rest of it, but Benny didn’t add anything.

“You know that’s not actually a plan.”

The best thing about this book is how fresh it feels. It’s inventive. And funny. It reads like Urban Fantasy, with the forward momentum provided by a noir-style investigative framework, but the surprise is that it has a high fantasy setting. Or perhaps an historical one. Having studied classical antiquity, the coastal city-state of Agatos felt so familiar that I had to check with the author if he had based it on a particular place. Turns out that it WAS inspired by the classical Mediterranean world, something like Classical Athens or even Troy. Whatever its foundations, the city is powerfully evoked, detailed and atmospheric without overwhelming the plot. From Horn Hill to the Warrens, Agatos feels lived-in and fully realised. It’s a dangerous place, with powerful factions vying for influence, magic, or just plain cash, their webs of expectation and obligation spread out across the city as they play against each other in games big and small.

The conflict of the plot is intimately focused, kept within a small, but interesting cast of characters. Our narrator, Nik, has an impressively original and appealing voice. He hits all the right notes with regards to the humour we expect from protagonists in this genre, self-deprecating and endlessly witty, but he’s also got an intriguing personal morality beneath the snark. Now a freelance mage, and not a very good one, he’s just one step away from being kicked out of his shoddy apartment. We only get to learn part of his past here, each tidbit parcelled out with precision, but my curiosity is far from satisfied. The path to this point hasn’t been fully revealed and I know there's so much more to discover about him. He’s already turned down power for independence and self respect, but he’s far from the typical White Knight material. Who knows what secrets he's got hidden away? In addition to this luckless, low-level mage, there's also a whole bunch of fascinating people who hold their own in the story, particularly the women. Little girl Sereh is terrifying, like meeting Sorry all over again, but the real draw for me was Captain Meroi Gale of the Ash Guard. She’s the perfect foil for Nik’s zany personality and general flightiness, cooly collected and cleverer than she seems. Their interactions were a joy, representative of the wonderful dialogue throughout.

The fast paced, high energy plot is strengthened by a punchy writing style, helping to build the tension as the various strands twist tighter. Even in the big action scenes, there’s always time for a quick comment or quip on the fly. I don’t want anyone screaming in terror or falling apart under pressure. If the main character can’t save a friend/the city/the world/whatever without a sense of humour and a devil may care attitude, I’m out. It’s one of my favourite aspects of UF and Samphire does it excellently here. Look out for the bit where Nik talks about the power of analogy - it has me laughing again just thinking about it.

Shadow of a Dead God is a fun filled read with humour and heart. There's real scope here for further expansion and the final section opens some seriously exciting avenues for the future of the series. There’s no doubt I’ll be picking up the next book when it comes out.

8/10 Shadow of a Dead God is a fun filled read with humour and heart

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