"Find a way, or make one."
'Master Artificer' by Justin T. Call is the second book in The Silent Gods series that debuted last year. It also happens to be one of my most highly anticipated releases for 2021.. so you can imagine how thrilled I was when Justin was kind enough to let me read it early.
At this point in the story, Annev and his friends are amongst the few survivors of of Chaenbalu.. their childhood home. Having grown up there in the isolation of the academy with the Masters, they were raised to have a hatred and distrust of magic. Groomed to become 'Avatars,' successful students would go on missions to retrieve powerful magical artifacts so they could be locked away in an underground vault, but all that's behind them as the vault and the academy itself lie in ruins.
Book two hits the ground running and never lets up. The small band of friends leave their village behind, traveling along perilous routes to even more dangerous cities. While trying to evade all those who hunt him, either to destroy him entirely or possess him and wield him as a tool of their own, Annev struggles to come to grips with his new circumstances and mourn the loss of his mentor.
"I am a monster. I am gilded death. The shadow's knife. Demon apprentice. Servant of Keos."
I was a bit slow reading this book because it's a monster of a tome, but in such great ways. Sitting at over 850 pages in length, it's a page-turner throughout. Call is a modern high fantasy master.. our very own Master of Epic Tales. The novel is incredibly dense, and by that I mean.. every 50 pages I read.. felt like 100 pages of information, yet it was never boring. There were no unnecessary, uninteresting passages.. every piece felt critical to story or character development and I had to force myself to put the book down when other obligations would arise.
When I read the first book, 'Master of Sorrows,' last year.. I was blown away by the author's skill. Frankly, I believe he's the best modern high fantasy writer of our time. There's a cohesiveness between all of his plot points that flows like water, leaving no space unfilled. They're intricately woven into a seamless story of hope and betrayal.
In this second installment, Call expands on an already vast internal mythos built within his fantasy world. Here and there, occasional extracts appear regarding the gods that influence the every day lives of our characters. Ancient gods who.. eons prior.. set into motion a seemingly irreversible chain of events and young gods, still manipulating their followers in an attempt to grasp more power of their own.
"And with such ease doth man defy the Gods by hoarding pow'r in golden rings and rods. Then turning 'gainst the Gods he cries: I rule myself and see with opened eyes."
Likewise, if there's a larger.. more in-depth magical system anywhere, I haven't run across it. But the best thing about all this deep world-building is how well placed it all is. There aren't pages filled with massive downloads of information, rather.. the grand details are sprinkled throughout the books and I expect that will continue into the third. Call never gives the reader too much to ingest. He gives us just enough to feel as if we're kept right on the verge of fullness.. and that lends itself beautifully to the way Annev and his friends must feel as the truth continues to open itself up to them. Almost overwhelmed and still just hungry enough to keep wanting more.
The side-effect of this arguably perfect approach for me is that it makes the story feel relatable, despite its fantastical setting. I'm so invested in every one of the.. even remotely.. morally salvageable characters that I'm constantly concerned about someone and think 90% of them are just misunderstood.
Mind you, the story is brutal at times.. emotionally destructive and physically violent. The author isn't afraid to drive the reader to fondness for a character, then to shatter them with some horrible turn of events. Even if you can see it coming, it's not enough to prepare for the moment.. because it's done with such expertise.
"We are already monsters.. and now our bodies match our hearts."
I could talk about this book for another dozen paragraphs and it wouldn't be enough to convey the excellence held within the pages of this story. I can only implore you.. to read it for yourself. I loved it so much that I needed a few days just to ponder all that had happened before even writing a review. I feel safe in saying, while Call certainly has a few well-established peers.. there isn't a single author out there that's better.