“Those finished with life crave it less over time.”
Odessa is one of Karthia’s master necromancers, catering to the kingdom’s ruling Dead. Whenever a noble dies, it’s Odessa’s job to raise them by retrieving their souls from a dreamy and dangerous shadow world called the Deadlands. But there is a cost to being raised–the Dead must remain shrouded, or risk transforming into zombie-like monsters known as Shades. If even a hint of flesh is exposed, the grotesque transformation will begin.
A dramatic uptick in Shade attacks raises suspicions and fears among Odessa’s necromancer community. Soon a crushing loss of one of their own reveals a disturbing conspiracy: someone is intentionally creating Shades by tearing shrouds from the Dead–and training them to attack. Odessa is faced with a terrifying question: What if her necromancer’s magic is the weapon that brings Karthia to its knees?
TW: death, drug abuse, moments of particularly graphic violence
Can we start with that cover? That beautiful, eerie cover? Because I loved the cover long before I even knew what the book was about. It’s particularly nice in person and I really love its shine.
But we’re not here today to talk about the cover so much as we are to talk about the book, which I loved! It’s another one of those love it or hate it books, it seems, but it was definitely a good time for me even though it went in a completely different direction than I first imagined. It didn’t have quite the sweeping adventure and intrigue plots I was expecting, but it did have a lot to say about grief and the choices people make when ruled by loss. As much as I wanted to prod the main character, Odessa, into making better choices when she was at her lowest, I also felt like she was written incredibly realistically. People don’t make good choices when they’re upset, and that’s just how it is. They mope, they cry, they spiral, they do all sorts of things, and those things aren’t always the things we wish would happen.
The other thing I loved most about this novel was the magic system. The types of magic are tied to a person’s eye color, with five eye colors representing five branches of magic tied to five different deities. People with blue eyes are the focus of the book, the ones with the potential to become necromancers, a critical role in a kingdom where the dead are regularly brought back to life. But even more exciting, there are consequences for magic! Traveling to the land of the dead to bring someone back requires a sacrifice of fertility (which isn’t always the ability to have kids, but sometimes to heal, or other interpretations). Another branch of magic associated with animals sometimes causes its users to bond so strongly with their familiar that they lose themselves. And the dead? If their flesh is glimpsed by the eyes of the living, they turn into dangerous, raging monsters, no longer human in any way but shape.
I love magic with consequences A LOT.
The other huge plus was that the main character is bisexual, and the world was not an inherently homophobic one. There was no drama about hiding her sexuality, no tense coming out scenes that made me worry about her well-being based on how someone else might react. None of that. I love my fantasy when it’s queer without carrying over homophobic or transphobic structures that already exist way too damn much. More genre fiction with queer characters! More!
There were a couple points that brought this book down to 3.5 stars, though. The pacing was one issue, because as much as I actually really liked Odessa’s vulnerability in her lowest points of the novel, it slowed the book down and detracted from the overall course of the book. When the plot picked back up, there was a bit of an awkward shift, trying to reconcile the way the pacing had been with how it was poised to go, which left the last chunk of the book feeling very plot-heavy and rushed compared to the first two-thirds or so.
Additionally, though this might be me (AND IT IS A SPOILER, SO SORRY COVER YOUR EYES IF YOU HAVEN’T READ IT), it was really uncomfortable to me that Odessa was mourning her boyfriend so heavily and then…fell in love with his sister. I loved Meredy a lot, especially her temper and her magic! But I was made a little uneasy by the fact that she’s the sister of Odessa’s very dead boyfriend. If that one fact had been changed, I don’t think I would have had any complaints about the relationship, especially since it was basically enemies to lovers. That one detail just made it unsettling for some specific reason I can’t put my thumb on.
ANYWAYS, SPOILERS STOP HERE!
On the whole, I really did like Reign of the Fallen, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for Song of the Dead when it comes out next January!
How did you feel about this book? Have you read any other good books with necromancers? What about good bi books? Zombie books? Come to think of it, I usually hate books with zombies, but this was fantastic. A true miracle.