Our five semi-finalists all looked good in the initial slush pile read. Full reads of the five novels pushed 2 to the very top of the list and the choice between them was extraordinarily difficult. What it came down to in the end was a couple of little things. For our Finalist nothing jarred me while reading the novel. I made no notes about something being out of place, etc.
Our finalist has wonderfully flawed characters, exceptional pacing, and a well-developed world history that is comprehensible. There is great action and adventure. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel from start to finish. It was and remained my front runner from when I read the first part of the novel to see which novels would become semi-finalists.
Congratulations to author Mike Shel
, author of Aching God
Trade Paperback, eBook, Audible
“Closer, mortal. You are here, finally, to feed the Aching God…”
The days of adventure are passed for Auric Manteo. Retired to the countryside and isolated with his scars and riches, he no longer delves into forbidden ruins seeking dark wisdom and treasure. But just as old nightmares begin plaguing his sleep, he receives an urgent summons back to that old life.
To save his only daughter, he must return to the place of his greatest trauma: the haunted Barrowlands. Along with a group of inexperienced companions and an old soldier, he must confront the dangers of the ancient and wicked Djao civilization. He has survived fell beasts, insidious traps, and deadly hazards before. But how can he contend with the malice of a bloodthirsty living god?
First volume in the planned epic fantasy trilogy Iconoclasts, Aching God is the debut novel by RPG adventure designer Mike Shel.
Also included is an advanced preview of Iconoclasts - Book II: Sin Eater.
Some additional thoughts
The main character, Auric Mantea, a former agent of the Syraeic League, had retired after a particularly harrowing mission during which his co-agents were horribly killed. This mission haunts him. He is called back to the League to undertake a dangerous mission when a plague hits Boudun, the Capital of the Kingdom of Hanifax. This mission will bring up everything that was wrong about the mission that made him retire, but is worse in many ways. Auric is emotionally damaged. He doubts his abilities. After all he feels that he failed his prior team. Shel deals with Auric's emotional issues extremely well - how they affect him, his abilities, and interactions with team members, and more.
Shel does not skimp of the characterization of the team that Auric leads. They are each well-developed - each with their own emotional baggage and needed special skills. Together with this new team Auric undertakes the mission into the Barrowlands that everyone is hopeful will end the plague. The journey the team takes to reach their eventual goal is fraught with perils, fascinating encounters, and adventure on sea and on land.
There are plenty of nerve-wracking fights in Aching God. Shel ratchets up the tension more than once. There is blood, gore, magic, and death. The world-building is extremely well done. The politics, religious belief systems, and history that are the underpinnings of the world and story are clear without overwhelming the story.
Aching God is a fabulous novel. It is a deeply immersive, exciting, and a dark delight. We give it a 9.5.
Note: The novel has several maps and 2 Appendices: Appendix A - Cast of Characters and Appendix B - Places, Creatures, Organizations, Gods, Saints, etc.