Somebody is hunting down the Written in the wilds. Murdering and skinning them alive. Who? A mere girl. A girl who was born to rip the stars from the sky and bring them crashing down to earth. The direst enemy Emaneska has ever faced.
In the wake of the Battle of Krauslung, the world has changed. For the darker. For the stranger. Magick swells like a storm, spilling from the stunned lips of farmboys and milkmaids, burning spell books to cinders at the lightest of touches.
As Krauslung unknowingly balances on a knife-edge, tension mounts. Insidious whispers have begun to spread, drawing new enemies to the surface. Discontent, fear, betrayal… it seems that the girl is not the only enemy Emaneska must face.
Who can stand in their way? Will it be a pair of struggling Arkmages, one blind, one Written? An Albion maid, on the cusp of her wedding day? Three shadows of gods? Or will it be a ghost, a bloody rumour, lost in a dark world of murder and bitter memories?
One question above all lingers on their lips:
Where in Emaneska is Farden?
Dead Stars is the concluding novel to Ben Galley’s Emaneska series. The book is so big; Ben has released it in two volumes, the first of which I’ll review today. Discussing this book will unavoidably provide spoilers for books one and two, The Written and Pale Kings respectively. If you want to remain unspoiled for the prior books, please click away or skip to the last paragraph of this review.
Ben Galley is one of the two self-pubbed authors I’ve reviewed on the blog and as such is somewhat of a rare breed. While I enjoyed the story of his Emaneska series so far, I had some trouble with his treatment of his female characters and some, admittedly highly personal, issues with his writing style. While Dead Stars: part one definitely continues the strong story, unfortunately Galley’s female characters remain problematic and his prose still doesn’t sit easy with me.
The story picks up fifteen years after the ending of Pale Kings. Arka is rebuilding under the joint leadership of Durnus and Tyrfing, but reconstructing a city and a society that have been so thoroughly shattered, is proving to be more difficult than anyone could have thought. Magick has begun to flourish, turning up in surprising places and individuals and the events in Pale Kings has caused an upwelling of new religious cults and sects. The consequences of Farden’s choices haunt those in Krauslung in the form of his murdering daughter. The forbidden fruit of his union with his dead lover Cheska, she has begun to kill off mages and especially Written at an alarming rate. Meanwhile Farden has disappeared to Albion to eke out an existence which will let him forget his losses, leaving those who care for him behind. Galley intersperses this narrative with flashbacks to the creation of the Scalussen Nine, the legendary knights, parts of whose magical armour are Farden’s most treasured possessions. We don’t see much of the intervening years and the book only picks up the story once things are once again coming to a head. Galley builds up his narrative tension to a massive crescendo at the end of the book where we have a natural break in the action to end this first part and switch to the second. While the build-up is well done, a large section of the book remains exactly that, the build-up to the main plot of the book: Farden’s need to deal with his daughter. While logical in light of this only being half the book, it still creates the illusion of a lot of pages invested and little pay off. Then again, even if there is a lot of setting the stage involved with the first third of this volume, the narrative doesn’t drag anywhere; it all seemingly has a function.
At the beginning of The Written I had a hard time connecting to Farden, because he was a hard character to pin down, especially in the early parts of the book he’s unlikeable and I wasn’t sure whether he was the good guy or the bad guy. For much of this volume he is quite unlikeable, and in some places even unsympathetic. Taking all he’s been through into account it’s perhaps not a surprising development, but it was rather hard to read about Farden’s retreat into darkness. As such, the way Galley starts to draw him back into human society was quite well done and makes even the slightest smile encouraging. Tyrfing, Durnus, and Modren remain much as they were before, though worn by responsibility. A new character I rather liked was Loki, one of the younger gods who is embodied and comes to Emaneska to help the Arka protect themselves against Farden’s daughter. The mixture of aloof godling and curious youngster was appealing. Loki keeps tasting and sniffing things, because he doesn’t know what it’s like to be human and all these sense are new to him.
In general, Galley’s characters are good, though not all of them well-rounded, except for his female characters. It feels as if I keep harping on this with this series, but that is because there is a lot of potential in these ladies and it’s sad to see it peter out. This manifests most clearly with Elessi. What is it with Elessi? The only agency she seems to have is the desire to land herself a Written husband. In addition, her anger at or perhaps even hatred of Farden is somewhat over the top. Yes, he broke her heart, but this vindictiveness just didn’t seem to fit the Elessi from the previous books. The two main antagonists in the story Samara and Lilith are just villains with no other dimensions. I felt like Samara’s motivations could have been far more developed and instead we just get her desire for revenge on the people who killed her supposed father, Vice. There are two more women who have a significant part in the narrative. The first is Moirin, the abused trophy wife of one of the Albion Dukes, who seemingly is only there to provide some motivation for Farden’s dislike of her husband. The second is Jeasin, an Albion whore who reminds Farden of Cheska, who is forced to betray him and who he is pressured into taking along back to Krauslung. At one point he even describes her as ‘just a lump of baggage’ and beyond a desire to protect her girls, she doesn’t really seem to have an agenda of her own, and even that is taken away once Farden whisks her to Krauslung. And that is the extent of significant female characters. I kept wondering what had happened to Lerel and the Sirens? Hopefully they’ll make an appearance in the second volume of the book, as they seem to be the only hope for a strong female character.
Galley’s prose is becoming an ever lighter shade of lavender and so became easier to connect with for me. It’ll be interesting to see whether this development continues. This being volume one of the book, it’s not surprising that there is absolutely no resolution of the story, whatsoever. But the final chapters of the book raise the stakes and I wonder how Galley will conclude the series in the final volume. Hopefully Elessi and the other ladies will find themselves some agency and we’ll see some more of the Sirens and the dragons too. Because however many flaws I point out, in the end Dead Stars: part one is a good story, one that kept me entertained and invested and one I want to see through to the end.
This book was provided for review by the author.