Thursday 11 March 2021

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Review: Hall of Smoke by H. M. Long (#Ad)

Hall of Smoke by H. M. Long

I received this eProof for free from Titan Books via NetGalley for the purposes of providing an honest review.

Hall of Smoke by H. M. Long

Published: 19 January 2021 | Publisher: Titan Books | Source: NetGalley
H. M. Long's Website

Epic fantasy featuring warrior priestesses and fickle gods at war, for readers of Brian Staveley's Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne.

Hessa is an Eangi: a warrior priestess of the Goddess of War, with the power to turn an enemy's bones to dust with a scream. Banished for disobeying her goddess's command to murder a traveller, she prays for forgiveness alone on a mountainside.

While she is gone, raiders raze her village and obliterate the Eangi priesthood. Grieving and alone, Hessa - the last Eangi - must find the traveller, atone for her weakness and secure her place with her loved ones in the High Halls. As clans from the north and legionaries from the south tear through her homeland, slaughtering everyone in their path, Hessa strives to win back her goddess' favour.

Beset by zealot soldiers, deceitful gods, and newly-awakened demons at every turn, Hessa burns her path towards redemption and revenge. But her journey reveals a harrowing truth: the gods are dying and the High Halls of the afterlife are fading. Soon Hessa's trust in her goddess weakens with every unheeded prayer.

Thrust into a battle between the gods of the Old World and the New, Hessa realizes there is far more on the line than securing a life beyond her own death. Bigger, older powers slumber beneath the surface of her world. And they're about to wake up.
The StoryGraph

Hall of Smoke by H. M. Long sounded right up my street when I first heard about it. A war between old gods and new gods? Sign me right up! But while I was gripped while reading, I finished with mixed feelings.

I found Hall of Smoke a little hard going at first. It starts off where Hessa has already failed to kill the traveller she was ordered to by her goddess, Eang. She's at her shrine up on the mountainside, several hours walk from her town, attempting to atone for failing her. And within a matter of pages, her town is attacked, but Hessa is too far away to make any difference. When she finally gets there, she finds her people have been massacred. We're thrown right into the deep end from the very beginning. There's no time for us to get emotionally involved, to feel attached to any of the characters. That's it, done, they're dead.

But at the same time, because it starts right away, we're not really given the opportunity to learn about the people of this world, who they are, what the politics is. We know the Agatti live north on the Eangen, they've never got on, and the Agatti raid Eangen towns a couple of times a year, but nothing ever like this. But we know nothing more at that point. We do get flashback chapters where Hessa thinks back to when she was younger, which gives us some context as to who the Eangen and Eangi are, but it just felt disjointed. And with other groups of people, we find out about them as we go, and it can get confusing when you don't yet understand yet why Hessa is reacting to them the way she is. I feel like there should have been a prologue or something, or the story should have started earlier, to give us some background as to who all the players are and what their politics is, who they worship, the various alliances and enmity between the gods, and the general history of the world as the Eangen people know it. I just had so many questions for the first quarter of the book, and really considered just putting it down. I was confused, and I didn't have time to get emotionally involved, so I also didn't care. The only thing that kept me reading was the fact that the story does move very quickly.

At first, this added to the confusion; between one page and the next, Hessa is on the other side of the world. Granted, she's unconcious for most of the journey, but it was startling. She was just in one situation, and now she's in a completely different situation. But this actually worked in the book's favour. After that first quarter, I had a fair handle on who all the different countries were peopled by and what their poltics was and who they worshipped. Otherwise, we just as much in the dark as Hessa. Hessa is struggling to reach her goddess, who is normally pretty responsive, other gods are in hiding, and other creatures are awakening, and Hessa doesn't have a clue what's happening. She's just lost her people, and is railing through grief, but she doesn't have time to deal with what she is feeling. She has to try and find the traveller and kill him to atone and to earn back her place in the High Halls after she dies, but the world is in chaos at the same time. While it isn't always action, action, action, something is always happening, and it's very fast paced. I still wasn't emotionally involved, and I hadn't connected to Hessa, but the mystery was intriguing. At every turn, you're never sure who Hessa should trust, what the truth is, or what's actually happening, and with Eang becoming more and more difficult to get ahold of, Hessa is lost at sea. It became really gripping, the more questions that crop up, the few answers we get.

I have to say I loved the worldbuilding. It's a very intriguing world, with gods that are very much a part of their worshipers' lives, and I was reminded of Greek mythology, as the ew gods had defeated the old gods, and were now in power, much like the Greek gods fighting the Titans. But there are secrets and lies and things kept hidden, and not everything is as it seems. There are so many layers, and they unfold layer by layer as the story progresses. I was desperate to know what the truth was of this world, of the people, and it's history.

So for the most part, I enjoyed Hall of Smoke. I was intrigued and gripped, and loved how quickly it moved, never letting the story lull. But I never really cared about any of the characters. While this book has a conclusion, and we get all the answers, there is meant to be a sequel, and I'd definitely be up for reading it, so that shows you how my feelings changed towards the book. But I definitely feel like the beginning could use some work, and give the reader some time to get emotionally involved, because I still never really cared about the characters. Hall of Smoke is overall enjoyable, but it could definitely have been better.

Thank you to Titan Books via NetGalley for the eProof.

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