Pale Kings by Micah Yongo

When the gods return to claim their world, the Five Lands will fall, in this earth-shaking epic fantasy thriller from the author of Lost Gods. For centuries the Five Lands have been at peace, but now a nameless enemy is tearing apart their borders. When a young assassin, Neythan, is summoned to Súnam, he expects to help uncover the enemy, but is instead confronted with secrets from his forgotten childhood, all somehow linked to the ancient scroll he has always carried. As the invasion continues, and the supernatural forces responsible are unveiled, Neythan must learn the truth about the power that lies in his blood… before it is too late. 

Micah Yongo’s Lost Gods series is currently sating my thirst for traditional-style epic fantasy stories.

If you haven’t read Lost Gods yet, then let me give you a quick elevator pitch. What we have here is a multi-POV epic fantasy in a world with a brotherhood of assassins, which is shaped by the feel and wisdom of West African folktales and is laced through with conspiracies, betrayals, and the supernatural. Sounds pretty good, right?

Well, it is! The first book, also titled Lost Gods, was a good introduction into the world, and Pale Kings builds on that foundation. We pick up pretty much where we left off at the end of the last book (and I’m gonna purposefully be a bit vague in this review, just incase you haven’t read it yet), and follow our characters into the wider world, where they try to learn its secrets whilst simultaneously trying their best not to be brutally murdered.

But first, can we talk about the cover for a second? The cover for Pale Kings is just gorgeous. It almost demands that you read it.

And when you do read it, you find that there’s a lot to like. It does have a bit of that traditional epic fantasy feel to it, like I mentioned earlier, but there’s plenty of innovation here to ensure that these books very much stand apart from the crowd.

Yongo is a very descriptive writer, taking the time to sort through the thoughts and memories of his characters. There is quite a bit of worldbuilding info-dumping too (though often just in small chunks), and while I’m not generally a huge lover of those, I found them engaging in this instance, and was able to appreciate how the little throwaway factoids could add some flavour to a scene.

The dialogue, however, is where I think this book’s main strengths lie. It has quite a modern feel, which I loved, but admittedly some readers might find jarring. But more importantly, Yongo is able to effectively communicate the feelings and personality of his characters through his dialogue. When someone is upset or angry, you don’t need a sentence with a visual cue to confirm it, because the words that person is saying will communicate that feeling anyway. To me, that’s the mark of dialogue done well.

And let’s talk about those characters for a second. While there are multiple POV characters, in the first book it seemed like Neythan was set up to be seen as the “main” character of the story. That wasn’t quite the case in Pale Kings, which a more balanced focus to the rest of the POV cast. In this case, that includes Noah, Sidon, and Joram.

Noah was by far my favourite of the bunch this time around. He has an intelligence behind his thought processes, and a very magnetic sense of innocence, but he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty when he has to. Joram, on the other hand… I have to say made me a bit uncomfortable. This is almost definitely by design since he’s presented as an antagonist, and so it’s no flaw on the book’s part, but it is worth mentioning that there are some disturbing scenes and some heavy hints towards sexual/child violence (which thankfully aren’t dwelled on too much).

In terms of story, Pale Kings is a little unusual in that it feels like a slow-paced story due to the level of description, but it’s really anything but. The action moves fast, and if your mind wanders or you don’t pay enough attention, you find that you can easily gloss over a vital scene or revelation. It’s not the sort of book you read while half-asleep at one o’clock in the morning. There is a LOT that happens in this book, and you don’t want to miss any of it.

But for all of that, it’s still very much a “middle” book of a series, in the sense that along with all the plot advancement, there is an equal amount of build-up for future books. I’m not sure if this story is planned to be a trilogy or something longer, but Yongo has definitely left himself with enough material to play with in the sequels.

And speaking of the sequels… I need them.

If you’re a fan of descriptive or traditional epic fantasy books, you may want to consider picking this series up. If you were a fan of Lost Gods and are wondering whether to pick up the sequel, well, I actually think that Pale Kings is better. So yeah. Go and read it.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, Angry Robot, in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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