Destiny of the Dead by Kel Kade
My review of Kel Kade’s Fate of the Fallen, first in their SHROUD OF PROPHECY series, called the novel “an enjoyable if meandering invitation despite some issues.” Kade is back now with book two, Destiny of the Dead, which is similarly meandering and, honestly, a little less enjoyable, though enough of the stronger aspects remain so that I’ll still continue on to the third book. Possible spoilers for book one to follow.
The conflict among the gods continues to play out in the world of our characters, with some of the gods, particularly Axus, God of Death, eager to cleanse the world of humanity, others trying to stop it, and other either not yet sure or keeping their cards close to their chest. The forester Aaslo, transformed by the events of book one into something other than fully human (he sports the arm of a dragon, partially scaled skin, can raise the dead, and can wield a range of powers he’s not fully aware or in control of), is doing what he can to oppose Axus’ plans, aided (perhaps) by the decapitated-but-still-talking head of his brother Mathias, who was supposed to be the Chosen One of prophecy until the whole losing his head thing.
He’s also helped by a band of companions, including the Reaper (a harvester of souls) Myropa, who must obey the gods but is doing what she can to oppose Axus; the healer Teza; the prophet Ijen (admittedly far less helpful than Aaslo would prefer); the migraine-ridden Marquis; the young boy Mory who like Aaslo can see the usually invisible Reapers; various soldiers, dead and undead; and his strangely aware horse, Dolt. Opposed to them are Pithor, Axus’ huma tool in the material world, and Sedi, an immortal wizard quasi-allied with Pithor, but who has their own agenda, most of which revolves around seeking death.
Aaslo’s group soon splits up, giving us two plot strands, while a third thread follows Cherri, a clanswoman whose people have been wiped out by Pithor’s army of monsters. Cherri eventually becomes the instrument of her god’s revenge, a paladin who can use fire as a weapon, and she and a small group of followers try to make their way to safety while killing as many of the enemy as possible. When Cherri and Aaslo eventually meet, bringing two of the strands together, one would think they’d find common cause, but things don’t go quite so smoothly.
To begin with the positives, the book is often quite humorous despite its often bleak and sometimes gory events. There’s a lot of the sarcastic, quippy humor that one often sees in the ”motley band pressed together” kind of story, and in particular Mathias’ voice is sharply wry, never letting Aaslo get too keen on himself.
The conflict among the gods, while not particularly original as a plot, is executed quite well, with the reader never quite feeling comfortable about the gods’ motives or about their alliances/opposition. Myropa’s role, as a being beholden to the gods but not of the mundane world is a nice bit of freshness to the familiar plot trope and, as with the first book, often adds an effective bit of sorrow and regret, as well as hopefulness, to balance the sarcastic tone. I’d say she’s by far my favorite character, and the one who evokes the strongest emotional response. The worldbuilding at the godly level is rich beyond the conflict and Myropa’s role, both in the concepts of how things work, such as the harvesting of souls from the newly dead, and in the various depictions of some of the celestial realms.
As far as the more problematic aspects. While the snark can be quite funny at times, it does come a bit too fast and frequent for me. Another issue I had with the humor is how much of it is meant to play off the way that Aaslo’s companions don’t know that he’s talking to either Mathias or Myra, both of whom are invisible to Aaslo’s friends. So you get a lot of:
“Will you be quiet?!” Aaslo snapped.
“Excuse me?” said Teza . . .
“I wasn’t talking to you”
I had several problems with this as the source of so much of the humor. One is that it was so much; it simply got wearisome. The other problem was more substantive — his companions know he can see invisible people, so after the first few times I just didn’t understand why they couldn’t figure out he was talking to somebody else besides them, especially since his comments were so unrelated to what was happening. It eventually became maddeningly frustrating as my notes first made mention of it, then called it out again, then became increasingly negative each time it kept happening.
Plot-wise, I found the Cherri storyline to be far less engaging. She felt too one-note as a character and also seemed like she had strolled out of a D & D campaign, with the paladin, the fireballs, etc. Her story has some serious grief attached to it, but it never came fully alive to me. And more generally, as with the first book, the plot meandered more than I would have preferred, with some pacing issues, some clunky exposition, a few areas where things bogged down, and a battle that felt more than a little anti-climactic.
I didn’t, as noted, enjoy Destiny of the Dead as much as I did its predecessor, and even that book had its issues. But also as noted, I did find it engaging enough to not only finish it but end it willing to give the third book a shot, in hopes that this is not a trend but more the dreaded “second book/bridge book” slump in a series. If you responded more strongly to book one than I did, you’ll certainly enjoy this one. If like me Fate of the Fallen fell more into the “solid” category, you might want to hold off and see how book three goes.