Lord of the White Hell by Ginn Hale
Kiram Kir-Zaki may be considered a mechanist prodigy among his own people, but when he becomes the first Haldiim ever admitted to the prestigious Sagrada Academy, he is thrown into a world where power, superstition and swordplay outweigh even the most scholarly of achievements.
But when the intimidation from his Cadeleonian classmates turns bloody, Kiram unexpectedly finds himself befriended by Javier Tornesal, the leader of a group of cardsharps, duelists and lotharios who call themselves Hellions.
However Javier is a dangerous friend to have. Wielder of the White Hell and sole heir of a Dukedom, he is surrounded by rumors of forbidden seductions, murder and damnation. His enemies are many and any one of his secrets could not only end his life but Kiram’s as well.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Book one of Ginn Hale’s new fantasy novel is a classic epic fantasy story. Here the thick, intricate world building is infused in every page, every detail of the story so that the writing and pace can sometimes be dense, but fantasy fans will be thrilled with the total immersion in a fabulous, exciting, and innovative new world. The characters and story come to life with an interesting and pretty complicated plot filled with intrigue, drama, mystery, and a touch of hopeful romance. This is the type of story that fans will appreciate and dive into while reveling in the constant world building. The hanging ending especially will keep readers on edge wanting to continue the series. This is easily one of the best books you’ll read this year.
The fantasy story follows the third person perspective of Kiram, a 17 y/o Haldiim mechanist going to a Cadeleonian Academy. Although he’s an outsider, he makes a few friends and is accepted into a popular group due to his upperclassman roommate, Javier. Javier’s family is under a curse that drives those afflicted mad. Kiram’s natural curiosity and sympathy have him wanting to help find a cure but the complicated political and cultural boundaries between his own Haldiim culture and the Cadeleonians may make his quest impossible. Not to mention the growing friendship and romance between Kiram and Javier may be acceptable among the Haldiim but Cadeleonians will not accept any such relationship. Kiram is caught between impossible forces on both sides, not quite sure who to trust.
The writing is incredibly good, as to be expected of Hale. Those familiar with other works by the author will recognize her style of lyrical writing and flair for prose. The world building is incredibly complex and almost overwhelms the story. On the one hand, this is clearly the point. The story and level of detail are meant to immerse the reader totally into the fantasy world. Every action, thought, dialogue is steeped in the new and interesting realm created. This gives a very traditional fantasy setting that fans of the genre will adore. This also tends to keep the pace slower with a somewhat dense amount of information constantly unveiled. I didn’t mind the slower pace, often re-reading passages and going back to confirm details. I didn’t find the writing or story hard to read at all, just very involved and complex. There is a small appendix with names and definitions but most of these can be easily gleaned within the context of the story itself.
While the world building and its creation may be the real star, the plot stands well with a lot of great drama and intrigue. Kiram is the fulcrum of all the various subplots as they all relate in some way to him and his journey. His friendship with schoolmates Nestor and Javier’s cousin Fedeles are wonderful insights into the growing camaraderie between boys away at school, while his budding romance with Javier shows the complexity of young love. The mystery portion relies on Kiram’s search for a cure to the curse affecting Javier’s family and especially Fedeles while Kiram navigates the social, political, and cultural differences between the Haldiims and Cadeleonians. His search feels authentic, honest, and steeped in the new reality. There are no surprise revelations, no sudden clues, but a methodical, almost tediously slow foundation built step by step. This keeps the mystery interesting while still always keeping the reader aware that Kiram is a stranger and outsider with unpopular customs and beliefs.
The characters are fully developed and each offers something to the story. Javier and Kiram are the main characters obviously but their understated romance is very secondary to the action and mystery. The story is careful to follow Kiram’s journey through school with all the unpopular subjects such as sword play, while pitting him against Javier’s subtle seduction. Kiram really shines as a young man mature beyond his years, eloquent, intelligent, and very knowledgeable about his cultural past and responsibilities. He feels a lot of self applied pressure to represent his people well in a climate he perceives as hostile and rigid. The comparison of his beliefs to the Cadeleonians is not always positive and there is definitely some narrator influence as Kiram obviously prefers and believes in his versions of truth and the past, but his ability to be open minded creates a wonderfully rich and interesting young man. Just as the complexity afforded Javier shows a complicated personality beyond the easy appearance and one that fascinates in every scene.
From the very beginning, you’re thrown into the fantasy world and this never lets up. Immediately immersed into a complicated story and world so there is little to do but enjoy the ride. There is a large hanging ending, which I usually hate, but done so well here that it works. Readers will want to get book two, but there is a nice pause between the two books with a well chosen break point. I personally can’t wait for book two and the complete story is likely one to be unique, memorable, and compelling for fantasy fans. Those readers unfamiliar with such dense world building may be lost initially but the threads start to come together pretty quickly so stay with it, the story is absolutely worth the effort. This is a story you’ll want to read again and again.
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