Overview (No Spoilers):
Taking place in a literary realm that has undertones reminiscent of the Lightbringer and the Mistborn series, Voice of War is an action-packed whirlwind that manages to shift gears every time the reader starts to anticipate where the story is headed. This pacing serves not only to keep the reader on their toes but also to heighten the suspense, especially during the battle scenes.
Voice of War felt like an introduction to a much wider literary world where only the surface has been scratched in this first installment, from both the potential and capabilities of the magical system to the general worldbuilding. Argyle has laid a solid foundation that can easily serve as a springboard for the subsequent novels in the series, especially with the state of affairs at the conclusion of book one. Even with the solid base established, the reader is left with a myriad of questions as you can read in the Additional Insight section.
Throughout the first portion of Voice of War, much effort is spent establishing the magical system of this literary world. The rules, limitations, and such seem clear cut, without room for variability. As such, it should be no surprise that everything we thought we knew soon gets turned on its head, and the twists, with regard to magic, keep coming right up until the end. Argyle leaves many of those loose ends still open, fodder for the rest of the series.
We mainly are given the POV of three characters. Chrys is a High General in the Alchean Army who struggles mightily with an inner demon who threatens to consume him. Laurel is from the treetop city of Zedalum in the Fairenwild, where she chaffs against authority and the limitations placed on her as she grows into adulthood. Her impulsive and immature whims constantly find her in trouble, in one way or another. Alverax has the least amount of print space, but is one of the most intriguing characters. I won’t delve into his background, for fear I’d reveal something crucial. No one likes spoilers. These characters whom we’ve spent considerable time reading about their inner struggles and motivations easily acquire significant depth. However, the surrounding cast felt like shells in comparison. The potential is there for each of them, especially Iriel and Laz, and I’m sure with the foundation established, more time can be focused on fleshing out these side characters.
Having consumed Voice of War through its audiobook, I would be remiss not to comment on how absolutely fantastic the narration by Adam Gold is. He really brought the characters to life.
I’ll admit, I was a little put off by the title; the words “Voice of War” had me imagining that I’d be reading about huge macho men duking it out with their huge macho weapons in battle after bloody battle over some crown or piece of land… which might be heaven to others but is not normally my cup of tea. However, I was pleasantly surprised to be immediately drawn in by the character-driven story and the diverse cast of characters. It was not the violent slug-fest I imagined based off the title, although there was still plenty of action, and yes, some war.
The story centers around Chrys Valerian, an expectant father and high-ranking general in Alchea, who also happens to be a man trying to forget his gory past. General Chrys’ main problem is the Bloodthieves, a shadowy group who has been kidnapping and bleeding threadweavers, those born lucky enough to sense and use threadlight to amplify their natural physical abilities. Chrys and his team work to unravel the mystery of the Bloodthieves, but as they do, what he finds out soon puts his new family in danger, and Chrys must find a path to safety. As the story unfolds, other voices join the story, allowing for Argyle to build a rich fantasy world full of diverse cultures without falling prey to the infodump trap or leaving the reader in the lurch.
Argyle’s world building is expansive and well planned; I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the tree-top Fairenwild to the sands of Silkar. There was so much for the reader to discover in this novel, but it never felt overwhelming or rushed. Similarly the plot is filled with twists, turns, and revelations, with Argyle adding new characters here and there as the story begins to unfold, but the story never seems unbalanced or chaotic. Indeed, Voice of War feels layered, not only in that each character has their own individual struggles and motivations, even as their stories intertwine, but also that Argyle explores the issues of loyalty, power, authority, and class through these storylines.
I really enjoyed listening to the fantastic Adam Gold, who tackled young, old, male, and female voices with superb range. Argyle’s characters each had a unique voice and backstory, and there are a great variety of strong females central to the story. Many of the secondary characters were just as memorable for me; Lazarus added a good dose of humor and Farah was a great addition to Alverax’s plotline.
My only niggling critique is that the friction between threadweavers and achromats wasn’t as fully explored as I needed it to be to buy into some of the major plot events. An achromat perspective may have helped readers understand just how important the differences between achromats and threadweavers truly are in the book. Also, the villain at the end seemed to come a bit out of nowhere, and I wasn’t sure I really understood their motivations.
‘One. Two. Three. Four. Heralds calm a troubled core.’
Let’s just say that, considering the events that take place over the course of this story, many of the folks found in Voice of War by Zack Argyle would have benefited from implementing the calming exercise found above. But before we get into all of that, let’s start at the beginning: The continent of Arasin is home to the haves and the have nots, as in those who have the ability to interact with threadlight (i.e., the connection between all things and the world) and those who do not, referred to as threadweavers and achromats, respectively. Despite (and because of) the special abilities afforded by weaving, threadweavers have been disappearing recently, with the group behind the abductions yet to be identified. As the mystery unfolds, this fast-paced novel focuses on the lives of three individuals: Chrys Valerian, a High General of Alchea who is struggling to keep his inner demons in check; Laurel, a teenager with a growing case of wanderlust; and Alverax, a man continually pushing the boundaries of his family motto – ‘Us Blightwoods don’t die easy.’ As Argyle aptly puts it, ‘together, they will change the world–whether they intend to or not.’
In the first book of the Threadlight series (published in March 2020), Argyle skillfully builds suspense by alternating the third-person point of view between a handful of characters at key moments, thus compelling me to read on into the early hours of the morning because I had to know what happened next! I also enjoyed how the perspectives of a few secondary characters are cleverly used to fill in their backstories and move the story forward. On the other hand, the addition of a new viewpoint halfway through the tale felt out of place to me; perhaps the narrative would have flowed better had it been introduced earlier. Similarly, I had a harder time connecting with the leading lady, Laurel as I felt that her actions tend to be more self-serving and short-sighted. Overall, I was most drawn to Chrys’s storyline, with his complex nature and his struggle to balance his responsibilities to his country with those to his family. Not to mention, it was an interesting contrast to go from the tenderness between Chrys and his wife to moments where he reminded me more of the Incredible Hulk (as in, ‘I’m always angry’).
Considering that Argyle has a photo displayed on his website where he is holding a coffee mug stating ‘I’m silently correcting your grammar’, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this manuscript is polished – well, aside from three instances of ‘passed’ instead of ‘past’, but I’m not dwelling, you’re dwelling. All jokes aside, Argyle has penned an entertaining tale, repeatedly upending my understanding of threadweaving and threadweavers with new information. Hopefully future installments of the series will delve more into the threadweavers of yesteryear because the latest predicaments call to mind George Santayana’s quote, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ I enjoyed not only the magic system found in Voice of War, but also its worldbuilding, where the setting shifts across many diverse environments as the story progresses. In my opinion, Argyle succeeded at making each of these backdrops unique and memorable, with plenty of areas still to explore as the series continues according to the book’s beautifully illustrated map of Arasin. Based on the questions left unanswered at the end of book one, I can only imagine where the plot will head next, but I’m excited to find out!
Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):
- Where does the Apogee that allows Chrys to fight ‘like a god or a demon’ come from? Why is it a part of Chrys? The Apogee seems sprung from the ‘stories of when gods walked the earth, and the corespawn fed on the minds of men.’ Is Chrys still there fighting in his head despite his body being controlled by the Apogee? Why can’t he regain control? Could Chrys have made the Apogee promise to not kill his allies?
- Is there more behind Lazarus? Laurel didn’t trust him and Chrys had never been to his home.
- Luther was such a wild card. It seemed so unreasonable that he had to blame someone for his son being taken into the church. However, it was the gamble they took. It even carried over to potentially jeopardizing the mission Chrys had asked him to take to rescue Willow’s brother. And what about Luther’s family? He essentially became a traitor for Chrys, without much thought to his own family.
- Speaking of family, what really happened to Chrys’ father? Is he actually dead?
- By imbibing threadweaver blood, achromats ‘can see threadlight temporarily. They can’t push or pull, but people will pay a lot for the feeling.’ Why drink it? Why not inject it into your bloodstream like a normal transfusion? Are threadweavers not universal donors?
- Alabella notes that ‘I’ve traveled far, and never have I seen so many threadweavers in one place.’ So, why are there so many in Alchea? How rare is threadweaving? How rare is it to be bichromic like Malachus? Is it possible for someone to have one chromic and one achromic eye?
- Malachus has now lost two of his High Generals and a third has suspicious connections. Does he recognize the peril he is in?
- As part of High General Jurius’s torture of Pandan, Pandan’s blindfold is removed ‘to watch this next part’. Is he no longer considered dangerous at that point? Why doesn’t Pandan use threadlight to try to escape or protect his loved ones?
- During Pandan’s interrogation, High General Jurius states, ‘I know you’re a Zeda – the tattoos give it away.’ I assume Jurius’s intel comes from Alabella, but how does she know anything about Zedalum and the wonderstone?
- The roses in the Fairenwild are: stormrose (blue), dayrose (green), Zedarose (yellow), and threadrose (white). These seem to match the colors of threadweavers: Sapphire, Emerald, and Amber. So, is there a <white gemstone> variety of threadweaver we haven’t met (or created) yet? Are there black roses somewhere to represent the Obsidian threadweaver?
- Regarding the Zeda people: Relying on the Gale to take ‘whom it will in the time that is right’ because ‘it is what’s best for us all’ sounds like senicide. How much time is there between passings of the Gale? What determines whether someone gets taken or not? Does it have to do with having a strong enough grasp on threadlight to keep oneself from blowing away?
- When Iriel has a medical emergency at the temple, a doctor rushes in to save the day, while also making sure to deliver a warning to Chrys before disappearing. So, who is he? What did he do to Iriel and the child to save them? Why did he have to save them? How does Aydin have yellow eyes if those powers are not able to be born? What was actually wrong with Iriel if none of the logical issues would require surgery? And where did this anonymous EMT obtain the obsidian dagger that he hands off to Chrys?
- While Laurel is testing the limits of Chrys’s obsidian dagger, ‘her corethread fought back like a magnet resisting its match, refusing to let it pass through.’ Does this have to do with her addiction to threadlight? Does she need a bigger piece of obsidian? It seems odd since Alverax, an Obsidian threadweaver, is able to break corethreads…
- After waking up as an achromat, Laurel meets a woman who ‘smiled beneath a pair of Felian lightshades.’ Is this Alabella? Or Sarla? Why did High General Henna bring Laurel to her?
- And now Laurel is a Bloodthief? When will she recognize her addiction has torn her away from her home? She doesn’t even know that the Bloodthieves have destroyed her home.
- Will Willow find everyone now that the Fairenwild survivors have moved west? Is Laurel’s Grandfather ok? What about Bay? Will Iriel and Aydin stay with the Zeda people despite her earlier declarations that Zedalum will never be home?
- Will Alverax find a home with Iriel and Aydin? Can he change his life? What will his powers mean? Will Alabella be able to make more Obsidian threadweavers like him?
- The cave explored by High General Henna’s men contains obsidian that is unaffected by threadlight. What gives it this quality? Considering they also found ‘mining tools and a few weapons along the way,’ who had been working in this cave before? Had they also discovered that this obsidian deposit is unique?
- If General Henna is a member of the Bloodthieves as well, what does this mean about the obsidian deposit? Why would she have reported its finding if that was the case?
- What was going on in the epilogue? Who is the woman emerging from the cave? Who is her brother? Is he the Apogee who is inhabiting Chrys?
- If Relek is the woman walking out of the cave in the epilogue, then her brother should be the mysterious doctor who assisted Iriel. Both are described as being as old as the hills but with bright eyes. Had she been locked away in the cave by the coreseal? Otherwise, what did the coreseal protect against?