Kagen the Damned
reviewed by Pam Guynn
Jonathan Maberry’s foray into epic dark fantasy thrillers is a fantastic start to a new series. It features Kagen Vale, the captain of the palace guard and protector of the royal children of the Silver Empire. One night when he is off-duty, the entire imperial family is killed and the empire is in ruins throughout all of its nation states.
Kagen feels abandoned, heartbroken, and haunted. He turns to alcohol and vows to kill as many of the enemy as he can until he can kill the Witch-king of Hakkia who will soon be crowned emperor. His rage fuels him as he wanders the lands and gathers allies.
Kagen is a strong character with plenty of good qualities, but also many flaws. However, he initially isn’t very likeable. His petulance, guilt, and rage consume him. Can he find a way to regain his balance and overcome magic and sorcery?
Kagen is not the only one that wants to kill the Witch-King. The nun Miri and a fifteen year old girl Ryssa manage to escape the capital city. What role, if any, will they play? Another nun, Mother Frey, and her cabal of friends have plans as well. But can any of them succeed or is all lost? Who is the Witch-King that came from nowhere and is so enigmatic with a veil covering his face? The characters are well drawn and unforgettable.
Maberry’s writing is always great, but his world-building in this novel was fantastic. There was a strong sense of time and place causing me to feel transported, as though living the events alongside the characters. There was a balance between cultural elements, historical events, and action that made the reading experience an immersive one.
The book ends with more of a cliffhanger than I would have liked. While the epilogue helped, there are still a lot of unresolved threads for future books in the series. Themes include different cultures and religions, battles, heroes, how history can be altered or slanted by those recording it, treatment of the defeated and dead, magic, sorcery, and much more.
Overall, this was suspenseful and action packed with compelling characters that kept me turning the pages. It’s an impressive start for the first novel in a new series. I’m looking forward to reading the next one. If you are looking for a dark epic fantasy with twists, action, and a few surprises, then this is one you may want to check out.
St. Martin’s Press – St. Martin’s Griffin and Jonathan Maberry provided a complimentary digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley. This is my honest review. Opinions are mine alone and are not biased in any way. Publication date is currently set for May 10, 2022.