Review | Idols Fall – Mike Shel

About the Book

Agnes Manteo now bears her father’s sentient Djao sword, along with a terrible revelation—the gods are charlatans, ancient sorcerers who draw their strength from the suffering of humanity. She and her Syraeic companions have but one duty: to track down those pretenders and end their reign of cruelty and lies, no matter the cost. To that end, the magical blade—mighty, single-minded Szaa’da’shaela—won’t allow any wavering of their commitment.

But the empire is in turmoil with the sudden passing of its undying queen. Noble houses clash and threaten civil war, murderous barbarians mass on the frontier in preparation for a bloody invasion, and all feel the aching void left by the clergy, whose temples were devastated by a great fire. Can the kingdom survive should Agnes succeed in tearing away its very foundations?

And if she fails? What might sorcerers with nearly godlike powers do to exact their revenge?

686 pages (paperback)
Published on April 16, 2021
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It’s no secret that I find reading fantasy for fun hard these days. I edit so much of it, I really have to be in a specific mood to read the stuff. It needs to be at a time when my inner editor is too tired to edit, so she sort of shuts up and lets me read. On the other hand, I’m also really busy with said editing jobs, so it takes me forever to read books anyway. By the time my workday is done, I’m kind of worded out, if that makes sense. 

I read this book a while ago, but I just haven’t had time to review it. I’ve been playing catchup with a bunch of projects. The start of this year has truly been a Thing That Happened.

All of that is to say, I’m sorry for the delay on this review. On any review, really. It’s been hard. 

Anyway, onto the review. 

Idols Fall is the conclusion of the Iconoclasts series, which has truly become one of my favorite fantasy series out there. This book starts out with a bang and doesn’t really let up until the very end. Here, you see the true majesty of the series in its entirety.

Before going further, I will say to avoid spoilers, I’ll be pretty vague about specifics in this review. You do need to read the previous two books before you read this one, but they are all amazing so that news should really excite you more than anything else.

Part of the reason I have put off writing this review is because I don’t really know what to say. Sometimes you read a book, a series, that just wows you so much you’re left speechless. It took me a while to process the book, the series. Took me even longer to really grasp how much I enjoyed it. 

Idols Fall really is the culmination of a sprawling masterpiece. The series itself took me places I didn’t expect, in just about every respect. What truly amazed me about the conclusion, however, was how many threads Shel managed to weave together, aspects of the plot that I didn’t even really realize needed a conclusion until Shel neatly braided them into the plot. Small details I noticed in passing in previous books ended up being huge, fundamental points of the plot. I had a lot of “Ah ha!” moments while reading this one.

I didn’t expect that kind of subversion, and I quickly realized that’s what I loved most about the book, about the series as a whole. Shel has managed to take nearly every fantasy trope and spin it so it was completely his own thing. He did this so masterfully, I didn’t even realize it was happening until I stopped reading and thought about the story itself, and all the elements of it. Shel is busy subverting throughout the series, but it really shows here in Idols Fall, and the book is so powerful for it. 

I have never thought Shel’s writing anything but the best. He’s got tight prose, a knack for knowing when to lean into poetic description and when to use words like a hammer. His fight scenes are… I mean, amazing. I really struggle with fight scenes, both in editing and in writing. I have a hard time processing them if there’s too much battle-specific lingo. It sort of feels like I’m reading a math equation after a certain point. Shel’s fight scenes, his tense moments, the character arcs that require inner battles as well as outer, are all done with such poise, such mastery, it really blew me away. In fact, I’ve had a few edits since I’ve read this series, where the authors struggle with this sort of thing, and I’ve recommended all of them a few books to read for a good example of technique. 

I’m more of a character reader than anything else, so let me focus on that for a minute. 

Throughout this trilogy, we’ve followed characters who have spanned the gamut of the human condition. Ultimately, I think Shel’s characters are absolutely amazing. The way he’s managed to make them so real, and yet balanced their development with the plot itself makes this one of those Goldilocks Zone series that will appeal to plot-based readers and character-based readers alike. However, it’s the characters that really made the plot matter to me. Their struggles, emotional landscapes, the way they had to make impossible decisions, and then push, push, push through the fallout.

Here, in Idols Fall, we have the culmination of a long, fraught arc. Shel doesn’t shy away from showing both the emotional highs and lows of his characters. With a careful hand, he addresses pain, but there’s also moments of levity. What I enjoyed most, though, was seeing how much the characters evolved over three books. Somewhere in this journey, they stopped being random characters and turned into people I knew, worried about, and cared for. Throughout this series, Shel has unashamedly pushed his characters to the breaking point, and then let them break. Some of them pick up the pieces, some don’t. None of them are who they were in the first book. Everyone changes, evolves, and it’s these evolutions, sometimes subtle and sometimes overt, that really put the characters over the top for me. Just as dramatic as the plot themselves, Shel doesn’t overlook anything in their construction. 

The balance between character development and plot was nothing short of masterful.

I have a really hard time finishing series, to be honest with you. Even when I edit, if I like the book I’m working on a lot, I will honestly delay editing it until I absolutely cannot delay it anymore. Why? I don’t want it to end. I’m the same way when I read. I have a really, really hard time driving myself toward “the end” because “the end” is almost physically painful. I don’t want it to end. I don’t want to leave these people behind, and I certainly don’t want to stop exploring this world, which is so rife with conflict, darkness and light. I felt that keenly with Iconoclasts. I just did not want it to end, and now that it has, I’m overjoyed that I read it, and also a little sad that I’ll never get that “first read” experience back again. 

The fact of the matter is, this is less a review of a book and more a review of a series. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I read this. I saw a lot of my friends reading these books and raving about them, but I just wasn’t sure. I decided to take a chance, and I think that’s one of the best decisions reader-me has made. Shel is an incredible author who knows how to tell a story, subvert tropes, layer in absolutely unforgettable atmosphere, and play tension like a fiddle. 

I don’t really know what to say other than that. Idols Fall was the culmination of a journey that took me through some extreme highs and some unforgettable lows. Shel gave the world a gift with this series. If you’re a fantasy reader, do yourself a favor and read these books. 

5/5 stars