Hello, everyone! Today I’m reviewing Kagen the Damned by Jonathan Maberry, the first book in a new dark fantasy series. If it sounds like something you’d be interested in, it will be out tomorrow, May 10!
Kagen the Damned marks the first installment of an exciting new series of dark epic fantasy novels from bestselling author Jonathan Maberry.
Sworn by Oath
Kagen Vale is the trusted and feared captain of the palace guard, charged with protection of the royal children of the Silver Empire. But one night, Kagen is drugged and the entire imperial family is killed, leaving the empire in ruins.
Abandoned by the Gods
Haunted and broken, Kagen is abandoned by his gods and damned forever. He becomes a wanderer, trying to take down as many of his enemies as possible while plotting to assassinate the usurper, the deadly Witch-king of Hakkia. While all around him magic—long banished from the world—returns in strange and terrifying ways.
Fueled by Rage
To exact his vengeance, Kagen must venture into strange lands, battle bizarre and terrifying creatures, and gather allies for a suicide mission into the heart of the Witch-king’s empire.
Kings and gods will fear him.
Kagen the Damned
***Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Griffin for providing a copy of the book. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***
I was immediately sucked into this book because it started in the midst of all the action. Poor Kagen woke up with a vicious hangover amidst the sacking of the imperial capital, and his confused, nauseous stumbling through the butchery and depravity of the invading army was written in such a way that I felt as if I was right there alongside him. The first quarter of this book was brutal, frenetic, and captivating, and it set up an interesting mystery while introducing the reader to a fascinating world. It was definitely not for the faint of heart, though, and put the DARK in dark fantasy with plenty of epic fighting, torture, rape, and so much vomit described in, at times, excruciating detail.
After how the book started, I was very surprised by how dull it became. After the sack of the capital, Kagen became a depressed drunk who wanders the countryside before eventually making a friend that ropes him back into the fight against the usurper. If I hadn’t really liked Kagen and been invested in his story, I think I probably would have DNF’d this book because of how long it gets bogged down at this point. The middle 50% of the book felt like the author didn’t really know what to do with Kagen between the time he fled the city and the time he goes back to take his revenge. So, he just added never-ending scenes of him drunk or in training. To make things worse, several other POVs were added in at this point and served primarily as avatars of the info dumps. Even though the world-building was interesting, the additional POVs mixed with the super short chapters made everything feel choppy, and anything interesting that started to happen lost its momentum because of all the rapid shifts. I think it was meant to build suspense, but all it did was make me super frustrated.
All that being said, there were some great character moments for Kagen buried in that tedium. I found his struggle to overcome his guilt and depression to be incredibly relatable, and there were plenty of moments where he and his friend, Tuke, made me laugh out loud. The world was another major plus of this story. It was a unique blend of several different fantasy elements, and the societies explored felt historic and lived in. The book also touched on interesting themes related to religious oppression, postmodern philosophy, and the use of propaganda as a tool of subjugation. I enjoyed reading those bits, but overall the exploration of those topics was fascinating but felt a bit underdeveloped.
The ending of the book picked up the pace and had some very intriguing elements alongside an epic confrontation that I really enjoyed reading. It also weaved together the multiple story threads in a way that brought this first part of the story to a cohesive end. There were plenty of twists, as well, but I think they will be obvious to most people from pretty early on in the book. The clues were not subtle at all, but the emotional payout of them still felt impactful even though I knew they were coming.
Overall, there was a lot to like about this book, especially the world, Kagen’s journey through depression, and the fantastic and brutal action sequences. I just wish the pacing had been better. If the beginning and ending could have been smashed together with only one quarter (okay maybe half) of the middle in between, I think I would have liked this a lot more. It definitely has promise, and I’ll give book two a shot before deciding whether to DNF the series. Therefore, I rate this book 3 out of 5 stars.