Book Review: The Godless

The Godless by Ben Peek, Children #1

The Gods are dying. Fifteen thousand years after the end of their war, their bodies can still be found across the world. They kneel in forests, lie beneath mountains, and rest at the bottom of the world's ocean. For thousands of years, men and women have awoken with strange powers that are derived from their bodies.

The city Mireea is built against a huge stone wall that stretches across a vast mountain range, following the massive fallen body of the god, Ger. Ayae, a young cartographer’s apprentice, is attacked and discovers she cannot be harmed by fire. Her new power makes her a target for an army that is marching on Mireea. With the help of Zaifyr, a strange man adorned with charms, she is taught the awful history of ‘cursed’ men and women, coming to grips with her new powers and the enemies they make. Meanwhile, the saboteur Bueralan infiltrates the army that is approaching her home to learn its terrible secret.

Split between the three points of view, The Godless' narrative reaches its conclusion during an epic siege, where Ayae, Zaifyr and Bueralan are forced not just into conflict with those invading, but with those inside the city who wish to do them harm.

Last year in April Tor UK came with a press release stating the acquisition of the Children series of Australian author Ben Peek, the first book, then titled Immolation but later changed to The Godless, would be published in May of 2014. When I read the synopsis of the book I knew this was just the book I was looking for. Using Gods in fantasy isn't a new concept but it is a concept that allows for a great story. The synopsis also made me wonder just what the setting of the story would be (I will get back to this later) next to this there are plenty of more cool fantasy elements mentioned that should readily invite you, no compel you to pick up The Godless. One DEBUT, yes it deserves to be capitalized, not to be missed. Ben Peek introduces originality and creates a unique spin with his story of The Godless that makes it readily stand out heads above shoulders from the rest. 

The first thing that readily falls to note, and which is bolstered by the prologue is the world wherein The Godless takes place. From the synopsis of the story I was thinking what I could expect, would it be a contemporary setting, bit like on our Earth but just fast forwarded fifteen thousand years without a science fiction influence or would it be a completely new surrounding and world. The world of The Godless is something completely made from scratch but Ben Peek has used some influences from existing genres, you can see from the cover of the book that our main protagonist Ayae doesn't wear any traditional old style clothing but more of our current time, yet she is wielding a flaming sword... doesn't this just cause you imagination to run wild? even more when you learn more of the world itself, Ayae is a cartographers apprentice which is more a job of the old times and an army is on the march to Mireea. Also take into account that the city of Mireea is build on the body of a God. The God Ger isn't the only remaining god, riddled across the landscape more and more dying gods can be found... and they are exerting their own power on the people... awakening them... I don't know what to think of the world is it history? is it in the future? is it dystopia? All I know is that it is great world building, and clearly reminds me of the world that Rjurik Davidson inspired in Unwrapped Sky (which was also a Tor debut earlier this year) on many fronts bright and dreamfull but on other front dark and gritty. 

The story of The Godless first picks up with an prologue where you already learn something about the world. What Ben Peek does correct here is trigger you again to think about what could be in store for you for the remained of the book, he raises many questions as to what and how and why. After the brief prologue the attention is set on the main protagonist of the story Ayae, a young and smart girl who experiences something that awakens a power within her, a godlike power, Ayae cannot be harmed by fire. However with her newly awakend power comes a price. The people who have been awakened are said to be cursed they bear a godhood upon them. With Ayae having her new power she becomes the target for the army that is marching upon the city of Mireea. Coinciding with Ayae's discovery come the appearance of three other men to Mireea. Zaifyr a wise old man whose body is riddled with charms to help him and ward of the bad and two Keepers of the Divine Fo and Bau. From this point onwards Ayae is thrown in the midst of a political game where she is being pulled in many directions by Zaifyr, Fo and Bau each having their own motivation for Ayae. And each of these men all have something to say about one another. During each of the conversations that Ayae has she learns more about the world and most important the history of the world and how several things came to pass. 

A different focus in the story is on the saboteur Bueralan. Bueralan is send out to sabotage the invading army. I actually found this a very cool idea, normally you have the large scale battles of army clashing against army, but here you have the covert invading "backstabing" saboteurs that infiltrate the other army and cause chaos from within the ranks. But with this job do come certain risks and Bueralan has his work cut out for him, if he wants to survive... In the beginning of The Godless the three narrations of Ayae, Zaifyr and Bueralan show only a bit of interconnection but as the story progresses and histories and intentions get revealed the web definitely becomes thicker, and makes the story that more engaging. Where Ben Peek kicks of his story with a slow burning plot, the book rapidly starts to build up speed and the end shows a nice escalation of the events with higher forces taking to the central stage... 

During the story of The Godless, you follow quite a few characters and most of them have been mentioned above already. Ayae a young woman takes the central lead in the story, with her character Ben Peek has created a very strong personality, however also one of doubt. As a cartographer Ayae knew just what the job meant but now that she has been awakened/cursed with her special ability, Ayae is being confronted by many different stories. She has to look for a way to give it all a place and come to terms with it. In this later part he determination readily comes to the forefront and she proves that she is not one to be pushed around. Her newly acquired powers might mark her for the approaching army but Ayae readily shows that she is becoming a deadly opponent for them... Next to Ayae you have a great focus on both Bueralan and Zaifyr. As I explained in the part of Bueralan, he is a saboteur set to disrupt the march of the invading army. In the earlier chapters you learn some interesting bits about his character and that he does have a past, for me I immediately had my thoughts about him whether he could be trusted... Bueralan is an established and great warrior who knows how to fight at one moment and duck at the other, his perspectives definitely broadened the world as it gave a clear sign of impending doom of the approaching army and that they mean business. Zaifyr adds an "divine" perspective to the story. His description is "a strange man adorned with charms". You don't learn anything in the beginning as to why he approaches Ayae, but he saves her life... Only to later learn that Zaifyr is much more than just a man... It's by his involvement in the story and conversing with other that you learn a lot about the terrible past or the world of The Godless. Perhaps his characters background isn't that original, it does work full color in the setting of The Godless. 

Next to these three more established characters there are plenty of other that you follow during the story. The Keepers of the Divine Fo and Bau and Samuel Orlan to name a few of the more "normal" men... Even though they are not the main focus point of the book, Ben Peek invests a lot of time in them to make them feel complete. I especially liked the whole involvement of Samuel Orlan from he beginning of the book until the end his motives always seem to change and you can't really pin him down... Fo and Bau are just nasty pieces of work and when push comes to shove a fiery and heated battle takes place... Next to the more "normal" characters of the book it does feel that Ben Peek is introducing some more divine ones as well, though there isn't any clear reference towards who is who, but Ben Peek readily triggers you to think about this. This latter part is achieved by the clever introductions to the chapters written by the god Qian. Here he introduces the background to the past and how his brother and sister acted and what for gods they are. Very cool and cleverly executed. 

One thing that I do have to mention is that Ben Peek does throw you a bit in the deep end with The Godless. There are a lot of new elements being introduced and ideas that come to show where he gives minimal explanation. Some readers might not be a big fan of this but what I have come to learn from several other debuts is that such an approach readily put me on edge and made sure that I wanted to find out what it all means. So I can safely say: where do I book my ticket for the sequel?

If you read all the parts above I do think you will understand that I enjoyed reading The Godless a lot. It was one of my titles to look out for this year and Ben Peek made it worth the wait. From the beginning of the book right until the end I was glued to the pages. When using a existing theme, it's up to the author to give his or her own spin to it and this is exactly what Ben Peek does to Gods in The Godless. The world in which the story takes place is engaging, exciting and never stops to move; the characters Ayae, Zaifyr and Beuralan have a great narration to readily pull the story forward. The story of The Godless is in essence a coming-of-age and coming-to-terms-with-yourself kind of story and looking at the overall development of the story Ben Peek does a great job with this. Don't think that it is only talk in The Godless there are enough fighting and battle scenes both sword and sword fighting and with a more supernatural element thrown in the mix.  I am going to repeat myself again. The Godless is a DEBUT not to be missed. In the interview I did with Ben Peek I asked him what to expect in the sequel, he said: Innocence... if you have read The Godless you will know what he means. I can't wait to see just to what heights Ben Peek will take his sequel. High hopes! Next year can't come soon enough!


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