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Review

Solace Lost by Michael Sliter

AUTHOR’S WEBSITE: https://www.authormikesliter.com/
SERIES: Pandemonium Rising
PUBLISHED: April 10, 2018 (Self-published)
PAGES: 559
GENRE: Epic Fantasy, Grimdark Fantasy

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Blurb

During times of war, no one goes unscathed. By Ultner, even in times of peace, few can escape suffering. Ardia is on the brink of civil war, though most citizens are woefully unaware of this fact.

Fenrir de Trenton, a disgraced guardsman-turned-ineffective-criminal, is accustomed to taking orders. So much so that, despite the danger, he finds himself neck-deep in the politicking of his current superiors as well as the rulers of the country. The fact that Fenrir’s father would rather see him dead doesn’t help matters.

Emma Dram, a handmaiden of the great Lady Escamilla, hates Fenrir with a fiery passion and with good reason: he lopped off most of her hand. Nonetheless, she finds herself in close proximity to her former lover as she seeks to serve her lady liege in fomenting her own rebellion.

Hafgan Iwan is a Wasmer, a race reviled by humans, who serves the same masters as Fenrir. His efforts to assimilate with human culture only earn him the derision of his own race, and he seeks to find belonging amidst the escalating conflict.

Meanwhile, Merigold Hinter, a serving girl with an unusual power, lives a simple existence, hoping for love, adventure, and to see the world. Her life should be untouched by political maneuvering and war. However, her world becomes a crucible—how much can one woman bear before breaking?

A story of love lost and family destroyed, of bigotry and belonging, of suffering and strength, and of religion and magic, SOLACE LOST grows from a character-driven tale to something grand in scale, perhaps even involving the gods, themselves.


Review

ALSO REVIEWED AT: Fantasy Book Critic, Goodreads

Ardia is on the brink of war. A tyrant, a mystery, and an enigma seek to bring the populace to its knees in submission, while horrors driven by hunger and rage are to be unleashed to drench the land in blood. The lives of four individuals are entwined, their sole purpose is to stop the vileness from prevailing, but the world is set on trying them every step of the way. Where magic and savagery prevails, will they be able to hold back the tide of destruction, or will their country be ultimately consumed by darkness?

Solace Lost is the the first installment in Michael Sliter’s Pandemonium Rising series, and is a merciless and devastating character-centric grimdark novel defined by its brutality and tone of utter desperation. At its heart, beneath the blood and gore, it’s a tale of strength and holding onto faith when all hope is lost. It’s about finding your rightful place, despite the hostilities of the world, or the all-powerful urges to conform. While this is a story of war, it’s also a true examination into one angle of the age-old psychological debate of nature versus nurture; everyone is born with the predisposition to good and the propensity to evil, and they are a product of their environment. I’ll be completely honest with you, there surely is no rest for the wicked in Sliter’s debut, as heinous atrocities gloriously seep from almost every single page, and the world we’re delivered to aptly reflects this.

This is a story that focuses most on its characters and their development in response to the bleak environment they’re subjected to. Presented with four points of view of highly diverse backgrounds – namely those of Fenrir Coldbreaker, Emma Dran, Hafgan Iwan, and Merigold Hinter – each chapter follows one certain character, and also expresses a subtly distinct tone. It isn’t difficult to decipher whose eyes we’re peering through due to this well-executed mechanism. As the story progresses, and they’re each exposed to the savagery mankind is capable of, we begin to see the evolution of the characters’ mindsets as tones begin to shift. Once proud, now apathetic. Once broken, now steadfast. Once callous, now righteous. Once innocent, now corrupted. I thought this gradual deviation was a brilliant way to showcase advancement without forcing us to make judgements based on their actions alone.

In addition to carefully crafted characters, the worldbuilding is where Sliter truly shines. Ardia is a land rich in deep, complex history, and full of many different walks of sentient life, all struggling to coexist. The detailed lore and religious foundations, both explained in short insights peppered throughout, also serve as driving forces for events in this story. We’re initially introduced to slight instances of magic, one that continues to grow and become more interesting and destructive as the chapters progress. Vividly described environments and systematic social structures strongly draw you into this fleshed out world dominated by violence and bloodshed. I will admit that at times I felt like I was being presented with too much information that seemingly had no effect on the story at hand, but as this is the first book in an epic fantasy series, an ample amount of details is expected to set up the rest of the slated tetralogy.

Sliter tells this tale with simple, straightforward prose, overflowing with cringe-worthy, lucid details that managed to make even me uncomfortable at times (this is a feat in itself). His ability to evoke emotional feedback is outstanding, touching upon some genuinely shocking topics, taking those grimdark tropes we all know and love, and cranking up the volume to max. As with many stories in this particular genre, mostly everyone and everything falls into a morally gray area, concrete heroes are nowhere to be found, but villains are immensely villainous. My only bits of criticism for the entirety of the book would be pointed towards several parts of the narrative suffering from slow pacing, and I also found myself looking forward to chapters pertaining to certain characters rather than the others.

Solace Lost is a solid debut and treat for fans of (extremely) dark and grimdark fantasy. Regardless of its slow pacing, the underlying plot is highly intriguing, keeping the pages turning just to discover what happens next. Fair warning, this book contains several events that may be difficult to read, including rape and torture, but I thought they were successfully used as vehicles for both plot and character development as the story continued. We’re left at a point where the fate of all hangs in the balance with lots of ‘what-if’s and ‘WHAT?!’s – that epilogue blew my mind…it’s imperative I continue with Wisdom Lost, book two of Pandemonium Rising, to see the consequences of that little morsel of deviousness! If you’re on the hunt for a read involving the bloody politics of war, some beautifully constructed characters, and a highly detailed world, then I recommend giving this one a shot.

Note: A huge thank you to Michael Sliter for sending me some of the most gorgeous grimdark books adorning my shelves.

Justine Bergman

Web developer by trade, ravenous reader, excited reviewer, dark fantasy enthusiast, mother of pups, drinker of strong coffee, and player of games. I'm also a contributor over at Fantasy Book Critic and The Fantasy Hive, and I love sharing the love.

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