In the Company of the Dead (The Sundered Oath Book 1) by Ciara Ballintyne
The book blurb:
‘Only a fool crosses a god, but Ellaeva and Lyram will do anything to get what they want.
Chosen as a five-year-old orphan to be the Left Hand of Death, Ellaeva has nothing to call her own—nothing except a desire to avenge her murdered parents. Her duties leave her no time to pursue the man responsible, until both her work and revenge lead to the same place—the lonely castle where Lyram Aharris is serving out his exile for striking his prince.
Caught up in their pursuit of vengeance, and desperately trying to save themselves from both political machinations and clashing gods, Ellaeva and Lyram never realise that the greatest threat comes from an unexpected quarter.’
This is a story about Lyram Aharris, third in line to the throne and exiled for striking his prince. His wife is dead and he is drowning himself in whiskey daily. Ellaeva is thrust into Lyram’s world when she appears during a siege on his castle. Ellaeva serves the Goddess of Death ‘Ahura’ and is imbued with some of her powers. This story involves their fight against the living and the dead, both within the castle and outside of it. The backdrop to the story is a siege on Lyram’s castle from an unknown assailant.
I really liked Lyram’s character, he is honourable and just and wars with this as he mourns his late wife, murdered at the hands of a man who is ‘untouchable’ in Lyram’s world. Lyram is adored by his men and his word is followed exactly but they are worried about him as his drinking is starting to define him. Lyram’s journey throughout this book is complicated and the choices he makes are tightly bound to his personality; he is consistent and well structured.
Ellaeva is my favourite character in this novel; she is capable of feats of magic and is highly trained as a warrior. Her title as the ‘Left Hand of Death’ is very intriguing and the author crates a feeling of ‘magic v humanity’ within Ellaeva, but does not make this the focus of her. This is brilliantly done and allows the reader to really buy into Ellaeva’s character.
The relationship between the two main characters is very well detailed and keeps the reader guessing as to what the dynamics of this relationship actually are. Their goals are different but their journeys are entwined and they must form a partnership in order to achieve their goals.
The world in which the story takes place is Gaelic and, whilst this is not a main feature of the novel, it provides a different take on the current fantasy genre. There are hints to dragons that are not wholly explored as there does not seem to be a need for this throughout this particular novel. However, I do feel that this part of the world could be explored and would be super interesting to read.
The magical elements in this novel are not new but they are done very well, there is a purpose behind the magic and it is not just added in for the sake of it. There are necromancers, animated corpses and ‘Spectres’ which are wraith-like creatures that still retain certain physical characteristics of their previous humanity.
The mystery of the ‘inside’ necromancer is played out very well and the reveal is also very good. It probably will not surprise the more savvy reader but it is still done in a way that is interesting and provokes emotions within the reader.
Overall, the novel spends a lot of time with ‘setting the scene’, that is, it builds the scenario and world first before really giving the reader any real action. The first half of the book is rather slow and some perseverance is needed. The second half however, is blistering in comparison; there is action, intrigue, and war! The author has managed to add many different elements of magic and these work very well, they are detailed brilliantly and have a real purpose to them. The God(s) play a lesser role in this tale, however, their influence is felt throughout and this subtlety works well within the novel because the vessel for the God – Ellaeva – is a fantastic character.
I think fantasy readers will enjoy this novel as there are lots of classical fantasy elements within this; heroes, magic, war, and gods. For those readers who like a slower pace and their action built up to over a longer period of time then they will really enjoy this. For readers who want to be thrust into the novel and who want to be shoved headlong into the action, they may find this a little slow.
All-in-all this is a good novel with lots of fantasy elements and well-rounded characters.