Review copy was received from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Kagen the Damned by Jonathan Maberry
Series: Kagen the Damned #1
Published by St. Martin's Press on May 10, 2022
Genres: Science Fiction Fantasy
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Sworn by Oath
Kagen Vale is the trusted and feared captain of the place guard, charged with protection the royal children of the Silver Empire. But one night, Kagen is drugged and the entire imperial family is killed, leaving the empire in ruins.
Abandoned by the Gods
Haunted and broken, Kagen is abandoned by his gods and damned forever. He becomes a wanderer, trying to take down as many of this enemies as possible while plotting to assassinate the usurper–the deadly Witch-king of Hakkia. While all around him magic–long banished from the world—returns in strange and terrifying ways.
Fueled by Rage
To find the royal children and exact his vengeance, Kagen must venture into strange lands, battle bizarre and terrifying creatures, and gather allies for a suicide mission into the heart of the Witch-king’s empire.
Kings and gods will fear him.
Kagen the Damned is the first book in a new Grimdark fantasy series Kagen the Damned and it is dark. Kagen was part of the royal guard, trained by his mother the personal bodyguard to the empress he was supposed to protect the royal children. But the city was invaded while he lay drugged in a whore’s bed and everything he lived for, all of his honor is lost and Kagen believes he has failed his honor and is damned.
The first 10% of the book is the sacking of a city and it is rough. The Witch-King of Hakkia performed a masterful attack and was able to take over the entire silver empire in one evening. His people were overthrown in much the same way over a thousand years ago when the Silver Empire slaughter many of the Hakkia people, outlawed their gods and magic persecuting and who practiced. The tides have turned and Witch-king has brought magic back to this land and outlawed only the new gods of the Silver Empire.
Kagen takes awhile to warm up to as he spends some time after the events in the beginning of the book lost in a drunken stupor. It takes some hard truths and a new friend, Tuke, to pull him out. Tuke was a much needed breath of fresh air and humor the story really needed. He has a quick wit and way with a turn of phrase that added a little light to all of the dark we had been dealing with. He is a good balance to Kagen and able to help him see a path that might mean vengeance against the Witch-king.
I did like how this book toyed with good and evil. Is the Witch-king really evil for wanting his people to be free to practice their religion and thrive in a world with magic again? Are the monsters of the deep and a dragon evil for needing to feed themselves or looking hideous? Do you blame the nature of an animal for what they need to do to survive or is their a balance that can be reached? There are truths to every story and whoever writes the history gets to decide what those truths are. It is a powerful thing.
I do wish we got to do more with the last dragon on earth currently trapped, that seemed like a quest worth going on. Kagen has magic himself, even though he was taught not to speak of it. He was probably born for this time in the world where new gods are awakening and the Witch-king is trying to bring hell to earth.
There are plenty of interesting characters. The historian selected to rewrite the history of the last 1000 years to make Hakkia the slighted country and the Silver Empire the villain. Mother Frey, once of the religion of the garden, with three different prongs to a plan that might be able to save them from what the Witch-king has in store. There is Ryssa and Mara, nuns escaped from the city on the night it was sacked and now on an Island where they are protected but there is a devious plot that is hidden until near the end. This storyline lost something for me halfway through as women became lovers. Not because they were women, but they were nuns and one nun was well into her 20s while the other was barely 15 it seemed a bit on the edge a pedophilia and blasphemy all at the same time.
This had a lot of great ideas and moments in the book if you can get past how dark it is. I usually don’t read anything quite this dark. But I think the plot could have been a little cleaner as there is a ton of stuff going on in the background. I think that will play into the next books of the series but didn’t have much to do with what is happening now. The book was engaging though and I did have a hard time putting it down after I got to 35-40% but did debate on DNFing earlier. Maberry is good at writing conflicted characters though and through the multiple PoV was able to develop was layered story.
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