Fate of the Fallen by Kel Kade
Fate of the Fallen is the first book in Kel Kade’s SHROUD OF PROPHECY series and makes for an enjoyable if meandering invitation despite some issues. It’s going to be pretty impossible to discuss what Kade does here without an early spoiler, though since the event happens only 40 pages into the nearly 400-page book, I don’t think it’s a huge deal. That said, you’ve been warned.
The novel opens by introducing two close friends: charming, roguish, master swordsman/fighter Matthias and his “brother” Aaslo, a shy unassuming semi-reclusive “Forester.” In short order the two learn that Matthias is the “Lightbane” — the prophesied chosen one who is literally the only thing stopping all life in this world from being wiped out —and that “Grams” is actually the High Sorceress who has been guarding Matthias as well as surreptitiously training him for his role. Not long after that (last spoiler warning. No, really), Matthias is killed on the road and Aaslo decides to do what he can himself even as the High Sorcerer declares all hope dead.
And so what begins with the biggest fantasy cliché — the Chosen One must prevent an evil from destroying all life, turns into a reluctant would-rather-hang-out-in-his-glade having to pick up the burden. In this case literally, as on the advice of the High Sorceress, Aaslo takes Matthias’ head with him to show the king that the Chosen One is dead. And it turns out that Aaslo can hear Matthias speaking to him (whether this is real or all in Aaslo’s mind is one of the ongoing questions throughout the novel). So Aaslo goes on the road, picks up some compatriots along the way, and eventually comes into a major conflict that ends the novel with a bang but points forward to book two.
Meanwhile, Aaslo is often watched (from a different plane and thus invisibly) by Myropa, a “reaper” who transfers the souls of the newly-killed to their next stage and also acts as messenger/observer for the gods who are both instigators of events (though at cross-purposes with each other) and also apparently bound to some extent by prophecy. It turns out Myropa will have her own more active role to play by the end.
To start with the positive, setting up the typical Chosen One narrative only to kill off the Chosen One (Maybe? Kinda? Sorta?) is certainly an enlivening early twist. And I like the ambiguity of whether Matthias is really still around or not. Aaslo, meanwhile, is a likable character, a nicely paradoxical mix of resigned optimism, a noble and kind soul at heart who treats people well but would rather not be around them so much. He also makes for a good stand-in for the reader in that he, like the reader, has no idea of the larger forces around him — no idea who or what the “evil” is, no idea what the gods are up (or that they’re even involved), no idea where he’s going next.
Myropa is more passive throughout, but in some (perhaps many) ways more interesting, with a complex story in terms of emotionality and mythology. The motley crew Aaslo manages to surround himself with are a fun lot and add a good amount of humor to the tale, even if so far at least they’re less fully formed as individuals.
Worldbuilding is rich on a macroscopic level. (More on the micro level later). I can’t say I fully understand the pantheon, the various realms, etc. (not a criticism as I believe I’m not yet supposed to fully understand them), but I like both the richness of the characterizations of the gods and the ambiguity surrounding them.
All of this makes for a mostly engaging reading experience, though one marred by several issues. While killing off the Chosen One is a bold opening, we still pretty quickly slide into a single person gathering a crew of underdogs to try and defeat evil, with Aaslo perhaps a bit too good at fighting, at inspiring, etc. In the same vein, we have a reluctant hero, a sharp-tongued young woman, some lovable child-thieves, a scattered prophet, etc. In other words, characters we’ve seen before. Now it’s possible Kade will subvert these character types as happened with the original Chosen One, but at this point the book seems more familiar than one might have guessed.
The plot, meanwhile, as noted in the introduction, is pretty meandering, as Aaslo wanders from place to place with only a vague sense of purpose. Similar to the mythology, I think at least part if not all of this is intentional, but it’s a fine line to walk, and I’m not sure Kade walks that line to its best execution.
Other issues arise as well with regard to pacing, some at-times clumsy exposition, and some implausible moments and even a few I’d call contradictory or careless. And while I like the banter between Aaslo and Matthias’ head, I’m more than a little skeptical that he would keep holding their conversations out loud considering how often it causes confusion for those around him or even trouble for him. Similarly, I found several aspects somewhat implausible, including how immediately and easily most of the people Aaslo meets (those who know of the prophecy) simply surrender to hopelessness and resolve to do absolutely nothing. Finally, the big ending seemed to be both abrupt and rushed, though I liked where it left the larger story.
In the end, I enjoyed reading Fate of the Fallen even as I carped to myself about various aspects or noted in the margin more than a few flaws as they arose, and while it had its noticeable issue, I’m looking forward to seeing how things carry forward in the sequel.
This sounds interesting and I plan to give it a look. I do like the idea of upending the Chosen One motif early.