Shadow of a Dead God by Patrick Samphire

Medium: ebook (462 pages in print)

Overview (No Spoilers):

Sarah’s Thoughts: 

Shadow of a Dead God follows the path of a down on his luck, low-level mage as he haphazardly tries to clear his name of murder while simultaneously attempting to save his best friend after they are set up. Nik cannot seem to catch a break as every lead he pursues comes to an abrupt and often violent dead end. Admittedly, detective stories are far from my favorite genre, even if the subject matter involves sorcery or fantasy elements. That said, Samphire created an intriguing realm saturated with fantasy elements, with mages, ghosts, and gods. The story is limited to one city, which is not critical as long as the worldbuilding compensates by establishing the magical system, political climate, and other crucial details such as religions, history, and culture. While all of these topics are brought up in Shadow of a Dead God, it seems like they were often relayed in a way to highlight Nik’s pervasive mediocrity or only mentioned in passing, leaving the reader with many unanswered questions regarding this literary realm. That these details are not fleshed out does not necessarily take away from the story at hand, though it did flatten a magical realm that was rich with potential depth.

The story is told from the perspective of Nik, an extremely insecure and pessimistic mage whose misery and dirtiness mount with each subsequent chapter. The rest of the cast filled stock roles, with latent dimensionality lingering right below the surface. Honestly, I found Nik to be an impossible character to like and grow attached to as a reader, which made really losing oneself in the material difficult. I kept waiting for him to grow or evolve as a character, perhaps gain some measure of confidence, however he remained stubbornly ensconced in his well-established rhetoric. I will be the first to admit that this critique is completely based on the whims of a reader’s personal preference.

The characteristic pacing of detective novels thoroughly stresses me out to the point that I have a hard time enjoying the material. It is easy to grow immune to the suspense being created when every time the main character is finally going to get some food, or has a chance to rest, someone will be waiting around the corner to introduce a kink into whatever plan has been established. After this cycle repeats a dozen times within the span of one book, it can cause the reader to grow numb to the mounting suspense. And again, I will fully admit that this is a critique that is another personal reading preference. If you enjoy detective novels, especially in a magical realm, such those created by Jim Butcher, Shadow of a Dead God will be right up your alley. Sarah’s Rating: 7/10

Jennie’s Thoughts: 

Shadow of a Dead God is set in Agatos, a seaside metropolis that is teeming with raw magic. Though magic stems from gods, mages are able to shape it to suit their needs with proper training. As with most things, some mages are better at the craft than others, where the three most powerful mages, referred to as high mages, have the political, criminal, and commercial markets cornered in Agatos. While most other mages seek employment from these high mages, Mennik ‘Nik’ Thorn has his reasons why he prefers to be the ‘only mage in Agatos stupid enough to exist in poverty.’ Despite lackluster magical abilities and social skills that make it a challenge to run a thriving freelance business, Nik has lines he won’t cross and allies he won’t turn his back on. So, when his lifelong friend, Benny, asks for his help to break a curse, the word ‘no’ was never really an option. Who could have known that it would result in the two of them being framed for a murder they didn’t commit? As the walls close in, Nik must step back into a world he’d worked so hard to escape from in order to identify the guilty party…

Published in May 2020, the first book in the Mennik Thorn series by Patrick Samphire meets the criteria for many categories with elements of fantasy, humor, and adventure, but at its core, this is a mystery novel that will keep you guessing. Over the course of this story, some of the events that transpire felt more like side quests, such that I was initially unsure if and how they would all tie together in the end (and they did!). I was also impressed by the rich history that Samphire developed for a single city, as well as the well-established magic system that incorporates gods and ghosts. I appreciated how Nik tends to explain magical phenomena with different similes to make them easier to envision. Although the worldbuilding was one of my favorite parts, I do think there are slight pauses in the forward momentum of the story where Nik, as the narrator, seemingly breaks the fourth wall to include additional quips about the history and surroundings of Agatos or to share thoughts that read along the lines of ‘you see what I have to deal with here?’ On the other hand, Samphire tends to push the pace by ending chapters with a cliffhanger, urging the reader to press on, obligations be damned.

Shadow of a Dead God employs a first-person narrative that allows the reader to get to know Nik, flaws and all. This perspective is essential to show how he reacts when things don’t go according to plan: with a dollop of self-deprecation and sarcasm, as is his shtick. We also see that he has a good heart that leaves him conflicted over using his mage status as leverage to get what he wants. Aside from Nik, there are only a few other major players that fill these pages: Sereh, Benny’s eleven-year-old daughter who scares the bejeezus out of those around her; Benny, himself; and Captain Meroi Gale, the authority investigating Nik’s innocence. Given their roles in the story, I would’ve liked to know more about their perspectives and backstories. Hopefully these characters will play larger roles in upcoming books from the Mennik Thorn series. Although things appear to be wrapped up nicely by the end, aspects of the story still felt unresolved since we’re only just beginning to scratch the surface of the who, what, why, and how. I see what’s going on here, Samphire, leaving me with questions so I’ll have to read on in the series… You win this round! Jennie’s Rating: 7/10

The Critiquing Chemist and her Bookish Boffins Average Rating: 7/10

Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound!):

  • The location for the Pit of Sharshak may be a secret kept by the Ash Guard, but wouldn’t it be easy enough for a mage to stumble across eventually since it’d be a ginormous magic dead zone? Sounds like a job for Nik’s echo spell…
  • If the Ash of Sharshak renders magic useless, how do the guards know who is a mage and who is mortal without knowing who they are first? They must have a lot of files on folks…
  • A mage-lock was a type of ward specifically designed to counter any magic that might be brought against it.’ How do you turn it off then? Could you use something similar to withstand the effects of ash?
  • If Galena Sunstone hired Nik to find and deal with ghosts, why hasn’t he brought charcoal, arevena flowers, and/or silver with him each night? Also, I feel like Galena should’ve been able to provide more information on the ghosts when she first hired Nik…
  • If the ghosts at the Sunstone’s were dangerous because the cult hadn’t severed their connection to Ah’té, are all of the ghosts that were used to attack Nik (and others) still tied to the beast god? If anyone tries to get rid of them later, will Ah’té reappear? What does the green book say about how the cult controlled Ah’té? What will Nik do with the book? Can other gods be raised now?
  • Nik mentions that there is something ‘missing’ from a person who is raised from the dead. Are you able to raise someone from the dead more than once after they first die? Do they lose more and more of themselves the more that you do it? What do you need to raise someone from the dead?
  • I appreciated the mineral names: Senator Anatase Coldrock and Mica. What mineral would Nik be named after if he took the Coldrock last name?
  • Who is Mica dating? What actually happened to Mica’s dad? Who is Nik’s dad and why won’t the Countess talk about him?
  • How is Nik able to determine the consequences of a curse he’s disarming without setting it off? Why doesn’t Nik spot the booby trap on the ledger? Is there a type of magic which hides magic? Who cursed the ledger?
  • Why does height matter for those selected to train as Master Servants? For effect? Do Master Servants just continue training until the next position becomes available? Do you already know who you’ll be working for when you start training? How did the Wren know that Master Servant Rush would end up working for Carnelian Silkstar?
  • Why is Imela Rush targeted by Enne Lowriver? What had Master Servant Rush been tasked with learning about Silkstar? What did the Wren want to know? Imagine what would’ve happened if Nik had said he and Benny had a message from the Wren instead of the Countess when they ran into Master Servant Rush in Thousand Walls…
  • So, Nik and Benny are set up to hide the fact that Lowriver planned to kill Silkstar? How much does the Wren know since his minion is the one who gave Benny the job? Why did it never come out that Uwin Bone was also killed? Wouldn’t Uwin’s death have brought the Wren more into the fray?
  • Was it Lowriver who alerted the Ash Guard in advance of the hullabaloo at Thousand Walls? What did she say for them to show up wearing ash since that’s not how the Ash Guard routinely patrol?
  • Where are Lowriver’s acolytes while Ah’té is loose at Thousand Walls? How does Mica feel about being deceived in her own house by mages she thought were on her team? What does Nik’s mom think of Lowriver’s betrayal? Is she actually oblivious to the mutiny that is occurring under her own roof? Will the Wren retaliate against the Countess since one of her acolytes murdered his spy? Who will be the new high mage?
  • Why doesn’t Nik just tell his mother about the Wren wanting him to spy? Why is the Wren being impatient?
  • I envisioned Nik using his delicate ‘tie-shoelaces-together-undetected’ style of magic to win instead of the undeveloped raw magic rage he unleashes on Lowriver. Does this mean he has more magical potential than he realizes? Is his lack of confidence holding him back?
  • How does Benny survive swallowing the claw and the magical onslaught from Lowriver? Does Ah’té protect him as self-preservation? Has the piece been removed from Benny’s stomach? What will happen to it? With the presence of ash around after Captain Gale arrives, is the claw still a magical artefact or has the link to Ah’té been destroyed?
  • Why doesn’t Captain Gale tell the Ash Guard about her missing ash? What would her punishment have been? Will she play a larger role in the next book as Nik’s handler for the Ash Guard?
  • Captain Gale is a total badass. I couldn’t help but be super annoyed with how Nik reduces her to her sexual attributes. Seriously, how many times can he mention her chest? 

Vocabulary Builder:

Desultory: marked by lack of definite plan, regularity, or purpose

Fob off: to put off with a trick, excuse, or inferior substitute

Skint: penniless

Winkle: to obtain or draw out by effort – usually used with out

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