Review | Chasing Graves – Ben Galley

About the Book

Welcome to Araxes, where getting murdered is just the start of your problems.

Meet Caltro Basalt. He’s a master locksmith, a selfish bastard, and as of his first night in Araxes, stone cold dead.

They call it the City of Countless Souls, the colossal jewel of the Arctian Empire, and all it takes to be its ruler is to own more ghosts than any other. For in Araxes, the dead do not rest in peace in the afterlife, but live on as slaves for the rich.

While Caltro struggles to survive, those around him strive for the emperor’s throne in Araxes’ cutthroat game of power. The dead gods whisper from corpses, a soulstealer seeks to make a name for himself with the help of an ancient cult, a princess plots to purge the emperor from his armoured Sanctuary, and a murderer drags a body across the desert, intent on reaching Araxes no matter the cost.

Only one thing is certain in Araxes: death is just the beginning.

391 pages (paperback)
Published on December 7, 2018
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This book was sent by the author in exchange for an honest review.

You know, I’ve been meaning to read and review this book forever, and I just keep not having time. I don’t actually have time right now (I seriously have so much going on right now I feel like I’m constantly on the edge of having a panic attack. It’s great.), but I’m making time because there’s only so long I can not do a thing before I start feeling really bad about it. 

Anyway, Chasing Graves. It’s time you and I, dear reader, had a bit of a chat about this book, and all the many reasons I loved it. 

Ben Galley is an author I ran across umpteen million years ago (not really, he was in my first batch of SPFBO entries when I was judging that contest and I put him forward as a finalist). Since then, he’s been on my radar, but I’ve always been a bit intimidated to read and review his books. Not because they are overly-whatever, but because Galley is a well-known author with a strong following and for some reason and I always worry, in situations like that, “What if I’m the only person on the planet who does not like this person’s books?” 

Well, I shouldn’t have worried. Honestly, I’ve read most of Galley’s books and I’ve loved all of them. 

Chasing Graves is, however, probably one of my favorites of his, and the reason why is because it’s just so damn unique. This is going to be the thread that ties this entire review together. If you don’t want to read anything else, read this: This book is one of the most unique books I’ve read in a very, very long time.

One thing I love about all of Galley’s books, is he works on multiple levels. So, on the surface you have the story, and the story is always perfectly paced and constantly entertaining. There is always something happening. Always some driving force moving things relentlessly forward. Never a dull moment in every sense of the word. However, under all that excitement is some of the most interesting worldbuilding and thought-provoking themes you’ll come across in fantasy. 

I loved, for example, how Chasing Graves was not only pulse-pounding and exciting, full of twists and turns and a dollop of mystery, but also how it also really dealt with themes of ownership and individual power and free will. Life and death as well. Those are not light topics, and they lurk just beneath the surface (and sometimes right on the surface) absolutely everything that happens in this book. With these powerful, thoughtful themes underpinning such an exciting plot, you really can’t go wrong. 

Araxes is a city of ghosts. Ripped from their lives, often due to violent acts such as brutal murder, these ghosts roam the city, and are forced into servitude to whichever master pays the highest price for their services. The city itself becomes a living, breathing entity, and through numerous perspectives, readers get not just a good view of this vibrant, dynamic place, but also the social structure of both the living and the dead in this world that Galley has created. 

And, as luck would have it, the characters shine just as bright as the world itself. All of them are just as layered and flawed, just as complex. Galley has a way with holding on to revelations until the exact right moment, which often serves to up the tension, but it makes that revelatory moment in the character’s arc (or the story’s) that much more powerful. There is a good deal of personal evolution going on in this book, which I truly enjoyed, because I genuinely felt like I was getting to know the characters as they were getting to know themselves. There was a certain bit of magic there. 

In Araxes, nothing is as it seems on the surface, and slowly Galley peels back everything you think you know, to reveal a city not just steeped in life and death but mired in change and the unknown. Power struggles, ancient cults, mysterious ghost armies abound. It’s a place where murder buys power, and the dead don’t stay dead. And yet, things are happening that cause this ordered, if uncomfortable, society to start feeling the tug and pull of change and the unknown on the horizon. There’s a bit of a simmering unrest throughout the book, that builds just as masterfully as everything else.

The ending of Chasing Graves is nothing short of amazing, and it got me to move on to book two in this series right away, which is honestly something I absolutely never do. I am more the kind of reader that needs a bit of time away from a series before I keep moving through it. However, I just couldn’t get enough of this one. From the fascinating world building, to all the different layers of literally everything, to just the story itself and the characters that fill it, I couldn’t stop reading. I devoured this book. 

Honestly, I sat down to read a chapter or two, and I’m pretty sure I blazed through the entire thing in about two days and ended up putting off some editing in favor of reading (I shouldn’t admit that, but here we are.). That’s how into this book I got. I was just completely and absolutely hooked. Absorbed. Subsumed. 

Chasing Graves is amazing, full stop. It’s a delicious mix of grimdark, horror, mystery, and mythology, and what can only be considered Ben Galley. It all mixes together to make this read truly one of a kind. Fantastic writing, superb characters, and—seriously, I cannot hammer this hard enough—one of the most unique books I have read in a very, very long time. 

What a strong start to an absolutely incredibly series. 

5/5 stars