The Traitor God – Cameron Johnston

About the Book

A city threatened by unimaginable horrors must trust their most hated outcast, or lose everything, in this crushing epic fantasy debut.

After ten years on the run, dodging daemons and debt, reviled magician Edrin Walker returns home to avenge the brutal murder of his friend. Lynas had uncovered a terrible secret, something that threatened to devour the entire city. He tried to warn the Arcanum, the sorcerers who rule the city. He failed. Lynas was skinned alive and Walker felt every cut. Now nothing will stop him from finding the murderer. Magi, mortals, daemons, and even the gods – Walker will burn them all if he has to. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s killed a god…

426 pages (paperback)
Published on June 5, 2018
Published by Angry Robot Books
Author’s webpage
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This book was borrowed from the library. Yay libraries!

This book was recommended to me by a friend of mine, who said that it had one of the most interesting magic systems he’s read in a while. Intrigued, I put it on hold at the library, and decided to give it a whirl.

A few things stuck out almost instantly. First, the worldbuilding is fantastic. By the time our protagonist, one Edrin Walker, gets back to the city of Setharis, it becomes obvious that worldbuilding might be the author’s forte. In fact, the city itself is painted in such vivid colors, with each street and alleyway accounted for, as well as the people who live on it (gangs, and turf wars, and underbelly city culture all accounted for in spades), I felt like I could actually find my way around this city if I needed to. It’s rare that a place is painted that vividly for readers.

Along with that, the magic system is quite interesting, and Walker’s specific brand of magic is not only unique, but also quite dangerous. Mixed with his moral ambiguity, and the vivid worldbuilding, this creates a really interesting cocktail for readers, with a ton of potential.

The book opens with a bang. In the first chapter, there’s an attack, in the second something happens that sort of puts the whole book on its tracks. Then Walker goes back to the city he’s been banned from for ten years, and readers are brought along with him while he travels the streets and bangs his way through one situation to the next while he tries to find out who killed his friend and eventually travels down a wormhole that makes him question just about everything he ever thought he knew.

In a lot of ways, this book felt a lot like a noir, with a grimdark fantasy bend. The magic system is really interesting, and so is the religion, with a twist on the idea of gods and goddesses that I frankly didn’t expect and left me sort of gaping at Johnston’s imagination. (On an aside, the moon cries actual tears, and there are myths about them and what they mean, and that’s just really freaking cool).

The Traitor God is grungy, dark, and full of gore. Walker, as I said, has a lackluster moral compass, and is just the sort of character I love. He thrives on the underbelly of a city that has quite an impressive underbelly. He has a long and illustrious history, and he exudes danger. He isn’t afraid to mess someone up, and that becomes more and more obvious as the book progresses, and the layers and layers of the situation(s) he finds himself in becomes clear. While he’s very good at seeming self-assured, he’s very conscious of his vulnerabilities, and does a lot to protect himself from those things that could easily hurt him, or damage him. Also, there’s a (kind of) sentient knife, and friends, that’s just pure badass, thankyouverymuch.

There is a bit of a mystery here, not just a “who done it” type thing, but there’s also a gaping hole in his memory that is so very important, and as details about this become clear, it really shakes the foundations on the understandings that Walker has built his life on. It’s interesting to watch this self-assured asskicker grapple with himself, and the world he lives in, as well as all the people in it that he thought he knew. So, aside from being outwardly noir-ish and dark, it also gives readers a view on Walker’s evolution along the path of events.

The Traitor God is full of action. I mean, nonstop. There were points when I actually kind of felt like maybe this guy needed to have a few minutes to catch his breath, but it all panned out. In some ways, it kind of reminds me of a video game, where Walker is always going from one situation to the next with very little downtime, and very little time to pause and really take stock of what’s going on. Sometimes it felt like he was reacting, without much thought or insight into why, and occasionally the action got to be so thick I kind of felt lost in what was going on and why. Overwhelming at points, I guess.

The other thing I should mention is that it took about three chapters for me to really get into what was going on. The first chapter was incredibly confusing to me, and the events that happened there didn’t really make sense until Walker gets to Setheris and starts wandering around, giving readers the lowdown on the magic system and the city itself. Then, the events in the first chapter sorted themselves out in my mind. The second chapter was really interesting, and it gripped me, but I thought the thing he was visualizing was a memory, not a current event, and once I figured that out, it made a lot more sense.

That being said, a lot of this book was very surface level action-adventure-mystery-thriller, but there’s quite a bit under the surface. There’s a lot of relationship exploration happening, not just between Walker and various people he comes into contact with, but with Walker and the man whose murder he’s investigating. These ties go deep and impact the protagonist in very profound ways. In a certain light, relationships are what motivates everything that happens here, and that just interested me. It’s not just a book that takes readers on a high-octane thrill ride, but it’s one where that thrill ride is based on a pretty solid, personal, intimate foundation, and that right there seemed to balance out a lot of the dark action/adventure aspects that sometimes felt like they overwhelmed the plot.

So, in the end, The Traitor God was a really fast read, incredibly addictive, and full of nonstop action and adventure. It’s dark and gritty, in a world that was so well developed it quite honestly leapt off the page, with characters that are just as vividly drawn. Worth a read? Absolutely.

 

4/5 stars

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