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MAAL by T.J. Packwood


The First Skull: Shadows of the Mind

From the The Skulls of Maal series, volume 1

by T.J. Packwood

Pub Date: Feb. 7th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-943844-83-8
Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Debut author Packwood presents a dark fantasy novel about a cruel world, narrated by a peculiar observer.

The story begins with human protagonist Maal being pierced by a long needle. Initially, neither he nor the reader is entirely sure what’s happening to him, although it’s clearly unpleasant. After some description of messy scenery involving an “ominous tower,” castration, and numerous corpses, Maal blacks out and is soon transported to another place entirely, where he sees a chained, human woman named Jil being sexually assaulted by a hairy creature called a Goor, while other Goor watch. Fortunately for Jil, there are also Stonewalkers present—tall, humanoid female creatures who are servants to the Goor—and one of them saves her. Maal, however, isn’t physically present in the world that he observes. No one can hear or see him, and he can’t touch anything; he also finds that he’s somehow tethered to Jil, who turns out to be the only being who can hear him speak. He finds himself drawn to the Stonewalkers, while mocking, disembodied voices in his head offer him explanations and commentary. The graphically violent initial pages will be difficult for some readers to get through, and over-the-top descriptions—such as one of an ax with “its weight fearsome, its edges sharp and unmarred”—are par for the course in this novel. After the main narrative gets started, though, the author slowly offers revelations about Maal and his world that will keep dark fantasy fans engaged. The suspense is kept taut as conflicts threaten to erupt; the Stonewalkers and Jil hate the Goor, and a mighty being with red eyes named Tchurn, who sleeps in a fireplace, expresses a desire to kill Jil. But why is Maal in this strange world, and why would Jil warrant a death sentence? Readers will keep turning pages to find answers to these and other questions. Certain scenes, such as one recounting the fate of Jil’s clan, feel repetitive, but overall, this is a gruesome yet compelling adventure. 

A morbid and offbeat fantasy tale.