Sunday, June 2, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: The Mists of the Dead, Travis Adkins


Travis and I are both indie fantasy authors who, coincidentally, live in the same city. We decided to exchange books, but this review is all my own thoughts.

As I do with all novels nowadays, I'm very much approaching this from a writer's perspective. I think of plot, characters, and world as the major components of speculative fiction, and sometimes, one aspect outshines the others. I tend to be a character-first writer, but there's nothing wrong with any approach. The different approaches are just that--different, and they make for interesting variances. In this case, it feels like Adkins started with his world, which is rich and fully realized, and built from there.

From the characters to the settings, there are lots of good details. But because the world is so fleshed-out and Adkins sometimes stops to explain cool ideas, that means the book gets off to a slightly slow start. We're introduced to the main character, Warrel, in the first scene, but the plot takes a while to get going. Even when Warrel decides to follow Kogliastro the wizard on an adventure, he has loose ends to tie up around town, which means he, Kogliastro, and the third member of their party, the dwarf Gumgen, don't even leave the city until almost a quarter of the way into the book.

There are also a lot of good musings and thoughts packed into the story. One such moment is when Warrel, who grew up orphaned and fighting to survive, is looking for food but his companions are focused on other problems. "Hunger, he knew, was an enemy that could not be outlasted or reasoned or bartered with." There were lots of these small, poignant moments throughout. I very much like little tidbits of wisdom that give insight into the characters like this.

What I liked most, though, is Adkins's insistence on the importance of stories. Warrel is a bard, and he's interested in both stories and language. Once their adventure starts, he bases a lot of his decisions on his knowledge of stories--whether he's the hero or the sidekick, what traditionally happens at certain points in a story. As a writer and avid reader, this was pretty fun to read.

Because I tend to mostly read books with female protagonists, Mists of the Dead probably isn't something I'd pick up on my own. In some ways, the unexpectedness of it made the read more enjoyable in that I didn't have a lot of expectations and was just along for the ride. In other ways, it made it less so. There are really only two non-minor female characters, and they both take a while to appear. What threw me most, though, is that it's very sexualized, more so than books I'm used to reading. The very first scene is Warrel trying to get a girl to sleep with him, and the women are often described as wearing very little clothing. That's definitely a personal thing, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

Overall, I always love finding new, interesting indie fantasy, and Mists of the Dead certainly qualifies. While the world-building pulled me in, the story is what got me invested, and I thought the ending was particularly strong. I'll definitely read more from Travis in the future, and I'd recommend this to readers interested in indie fantasy, high fantasy, zombies, and world-building.

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