This epic fantasy debut finds a group of warriors avenging the deaths of their loved ones in a realm surrounded by undead savages.
Maqui is a young woman living in the post-apocalyptic city of Oris, which is rimmed by dark woods. In those woods lurk vicious, diseased humanoids called Ferals. They are controlled by the Skinwalkers, who rule the outer rims under the guise of civility. As a child, Maqui was mauled by Marco—an enforcer for Jabrom, Lord Proctor of Oris—who scarred her face and infected her with the Feral disease. She didn’t turn Feral, however. After the death of Maqui’s family, a smith named Maker adopted her and hired a man named Jed to train them both in close combat. Eventually, Maqui enters the Champion Games, where her prowess is tested against other fighters. At the tournament, she meets Vitus Cait, who offers information about the Ferals and an explanation for the spells of angry darkness that have started threatening Maqui’s sanity: If she gives in emotionally to the darkness, she’ll become Feral. Maker then decides that the Ferals must be proactively hunted in the woods, which proves successful. This forces Lord Proctor Jabrom to confront Maqui with the revelation that she will someday belong to him. “You have true potential,” he tells her ominously, and their sinister connection fuels Mellen’s epic debut. The narrative’s best aspect is Mellen’s unique take on zombies, best described in a stark passage: “Humanoid. Tepid white skin, covered in filth and grime. Thin and sinewy, the way a starving wolf is.” Yet a fabulously grisly opening ends up squandered on one too many fighting and eating sequences. The prose is clogged with descriptions of body language and the subtleties of dialogue: “ ‘What are you talking about?’ I asked, a hint of life coloring my voice as I regarded him in a wary fashion.” These factors bulk up the story, leaving little room for a more complex plot to flourish.
Gives fans of dark, violent fantasy what they crave and not much more.