Ben Galley – Pale Kings

bengalley-palekingsEmaneska is crying out for a saviour
The only question is:
Can they kill a child to save a world?

Emaneska’s Long Winter remains as bitter as a blade between the ribs. War is fast approaching. Gods and daemons are hovering on the horizon. Long-lost revelations arrive to haunt the lives of three men.

The Pale Kings are rising.

While Farden busies himself digging up his past in the strange deserts of Paraia, the storm-clouds begin to gather for Durnus, Elessi, Cheska, and Modren.

Together with Farfallen and his Sirens, they must fight to survive against the Long Winter, the vicious machinations of the new Arkmage, and the arrival of something much deadlier than both combined. War, deception, and murder are quickly becoming the only paths to salvation…

WARNING: This review contains spoilers for the first book in the Emaneska series and some slight spoilers for this book. If you want to remain unspoiled, please click away or skip to the last paragraph.

A fortnight ago, I reviewed the first in Ben Galley’s Emaneska series, The Written. It was rather an occasion, as it was the first self-pubbed book I’ve ever reviewed and it was an interesting experiment. While on the whole I’d enjoyed the novel, I did have some issues with it; some of them perhaps due to first-novel-itis, others due to the author’s stylistic choices. Still, I started Pale Kings looking forward to finding out what happened to Farden and company and to see whether he’d be able to save Emaneska. Unfortunately, while some of my niggles from the previous books were solved, others remained; Pale Kings made for another mixed reading experience, because even if there were some major things that bothered me, Galley writes a compelling tale and I did get invested in the characters.

So let’s start off with the problems I had with the book. As with The Written Galley’s prose is lavender and he tends to be rather more elaborate with his descriptions than necessary – or desirable in my case – but as mentioned in my previous review, whether you find this a problem is very much a case of personal taste. There is still a lot of head-hopping, though it’s less confusing this time around, and Galley still makes the stylistic choices that bothered me in the previous book, but they were less intrusive this time around. One thing that did catch my eye this time around was the way the narrator intruded upon the story more, quite often turning omniscient, instead of limited. The narrator gave summations and foreshadows events in a way that felt intrusive rather than organic and a lot of the time it happened at shifts in the narrative, which made these feel clunky.

One problem that unfortunately carried over from the previous book is again Galley’s treatment of the female characters. As before, we have the three characters of Elessi, Cheska, and Svarta, who mostly have the same problems as before. And Cheska, who seemed to gain some agency by the end of the first book, basically loses all of it again in this one, which was disappointing. We also get three new female characters. The first is Lerel, a pupil of Farden’s uncle, but her role in the story is minimal and while it turns out she was around in the previous book all along, there is a lot of potential wasted in this character and I really hope she gets to be stronger, or more in the foreground, in the final book in the series. The second is General Agfrey, a Skölgarder, who is basically shown as very ugly, mannish, and cruel. Lastly, the is Lilith, another bad guy, who is introduced as a crone and a seer, but turns into more. She does have agency, but again, like Agfrey feels a little clichéd. In all, I found them disappointing.

There was one line in the book that just completely shook me out of the narrative and when I say it shook me, I mean it picked me up, rattled me until my eyes closed and then closed the book. And wasn’t because it was a bad line exactly, but because it so blatantly was an homage to Tolkien that I just blinked. The line? “‘Be on the lookout for strangers, and on the dawn of the fifth day watch for dragons in the sky to the north,’ she said.” In no other part of either of his books I’ve read so far does Galley show his influences so blatantly. I mean, I think I could guess at some of his inspirations, but this was just so totally revealing, it really bothered me. Luckily it was a onetime thing and I quickly managed to get back into the story.

Writing this review, it seems as if I really disliked the book, which really isn’t the case. The story is good and there were some very interesting plot developments. Galley further deepens his world by showing us some of its history and creation myths, revealing more about the daemons and the gods in the process. We also get a fabulous new creature in the form of Ilios, the gryphon. I loved Galley’s incarnation of this beast, the fact that he couldn’t speak like a human, that he could only communicate mind-to-mind and mostly through dreams. He was one of my favourite things about the book. Another great addition is Tyrfing, Farden’s uncle. I loved this broken, damaged man and the way he pulls himself together – or rather is badgered into it by Ilios – and takes his place in the ranks of the players allied to save the world from Vice’s grip. Durnus’ development and the decisions he has to make are fascinating too and I found them quite original.

In reading Pale Kings, it turns out that I can forgive a lot of stylistic problems as long as the story is good. Unfortunately, there wasn’t as much growth from the previous book to this one and not all of the first novel flaws were gone, but once again, Galley proves he can tell a story. Despite Galley and myself perhaps not being the best fit stylistically, I do want to know how this story ends, so one could say that the author has done his job well. Pale Kings is a solid successor to The Written and I’m looking forward to finding out how Farden’s story ends in The Dead Stars, which is expected somewhere in 2013.

This book was provided for review by the author.