Cover Image: Faithless

Faithless

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Faithless follows a society dedicated to the reverence of the Forgefather, a once-powerful being who helped them in times past. The Forgefather has retreated, due to the sins of the priests, and now without a god to worship, the priests are now "faithless" as they gather around their once-vibrant altars of faith and continue to work the Aspiration mine below their temple. Their once-sprawling empire has sputtered and retreated to a remnant of its former glory. Many young men are sold into work in the mines, and face a lifetime of toil under cruel masters with little hope of freedom. Some few are released back to serve the priests. To many, a quick death is preferred.

Faithless generally follows the journeys of two disillusioned young men, Wynn and Kharios, as they seek the truth of the Forgefather and the mines, to survive, and to make a life for themselves. They discover that the sins of the priests are legion, and as the power struggle in the temple above them comes to a head, they must retreat further into the blackness of the mines, to places where dark beings are rumored to lure men to be devoured and killed. What they find there could either doom them, or alter the direction of their kingdom.

The author takes you into a dark place here- darkness closes in on every side, whether the dark of the mines, or the darkness of the priests. It would have been too much for me, if the author hadn't included some interesting bits on mining and smithing, and just enough hints about what was to come to keep things moving. The cast of characters made the mines come alive, and feel like a real-life prison from which there was no escape. The only caveat I have is that the story seldom left the mines, and I found myself wishing for more away-time and back story about the society and kingdoms outside the mines. That may be a personal preference, but it would have made the story better for me. 

All in all, recommended. It's dark, gnarly and twisted. It's cynical and full of death and despair, and some sickening deeds, but it is a fun journey with some great action in the last half of the novel.
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From faeries and myths and folklore, to mines and priests and the sacred aspect of the forge, Graham Austin-King jumps from one trilogy to the next, and from good to impeccable.

     The priests and warriors of the Forgefather once ruled the world in his name. Now they are but a shadow of their former selves, forced to obscurity as their God turned his back on them and stopped answering their prayers. Rendered to simple smiths and craftsmen, they can but reminisce the old days and of that which was lost. But when an experiment goes wrong, they will get far more than they ever asked for. 

"The blackness was total. Not the velvet night of above ground, when even the faintest of stars will provide some light. That darkness can even be a comfort. This was a darkness that held no warmth. It fell unopposed. And all unchallenged, it ruled."

     Faithless has already been reviewed on BookNest three times in the last couple of weeks, so I'll keep mine short. In his new novel, Austin-King explores some different aspects of fantasy, shifting through a lot of themes such as faith, slavery and the art of craftsmanship. This isn't a book of epic fights, exciting action sequences, mages and creatures of old - this is a journey of self-discovery and of a twisted pilgrimage. 

      Austin-King paid a lot of attention to every detail, and that, combined with his unique story-telling abilities resulted in a mesmerizing story that gripes you from the very first page. A lot of minor sub-plots were efficiently interlaced within the main story-line, playing a vital role to the self-growth of the protagonist(s), and paving the road for the events to come, as well as some shocking revelations; revelations that were part of two carefully planned plot-twists that although I saw them coming from a long way, I was still pleased to see them unraveling.

     The pace of the story was steady and with a rising tempo, but the finale felt kinda anti-climatic. Nothing important, mind you; just an observation, and most certainly not significant enough to affect the pleasure you will get from finishing the book.  Finally, Austin-King's prose was excellent, as a matter of fact one of the best I've ever seen, changing and adapting throughout the story.  

     All in all, Faithless is the high point of Austin-King's career, and I'm truly surprised that it wasn't snatched by one of the major publishers. I expect it to be a finalist of SPFBO 2017.
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I initially picked up Faithless just over a month ago and when I did I found myself instantaneously draw into its world due to the intrigue and mystery that grips you from the outset of the book. Unfortunately after that initial read I had to put the book down due to other commitments and I only then got picking it up again a week ago. Upon returning to the book nearly a month after initially picking it up I found myself falling in love with the world all over again and I had not forgotten a single piece of information from that initial read. In a world full of great books I believe it is become more difficult to become memorable to the point where you will always remember a book after reading numerous other books and I can assure you that Faithless accomplish that memorability.

I believe this is in part because of the world Graham has built for this book as it is very clear that he spent a lot of time and effort learning about different aspects of this world from a real world, especially when it comes to the forging of metal and these parts of the book were thoroughly enjoyable to read because of that. Without giving out spoilers there is one subject in this book that Graham covers that we have unfortunately had to deal with in the real world and I have a lot of respect for him for having the courage to cover that subject in Faithless.

There are many books where I have found it difficult to empathize with a character, I believe this is somewhat in part to more books being focused more on a story rather than its characters or simply because we can't relate with to a character. Graham's perspective and method by which he creates his characters makes you create a deep connection with each of them which in turn gives you empathy towards them and on certain occasions mimic how they are feeling. After reading Faithless for a short time the book did its first POV switch and as I progressed through the book I discovered that something big would eventually occur. When I eventually came to that point in the book I was absolutely blown away by it, I had gone through numerous scenarios in my head to try and determine what would happen and none of them prepared me for what I read.

There is something truly astounding about Faithless and it is very hard to pin point what exactly that is, it could be the world, characters, suspense or all of the above but all I can is that it's incredible. I went from only reading a small portion of this to having it read within 5 days as every night upon returning home from work I found myself wanting to instantly pick it up as well as reading late into the night and for me that is very rare.

If you are fan of science fiction or fantasy then I would highly recommend this book, if not then I would still recommend you give it a try as I believe you will still really enjoy it. Over the last number of years I have read many science fiction and fantasy books, many of which have blown me away like this one. However Faithless is one of the most unique, intriguing and dark books I have ever read so I would highly recommend you pick this up.
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I've been seeing this book around on my Goodreads Feeds and Amazon Also-boughts recently and decided it was worth taking a chance on. I read so much fantasy that some of it seems very similar in plot and themes, but all done differently with different characters and a different author's voice. Faithless is one of the most unique and original fantasy books I have ever read.

Wynn is sold to the temple by his father, after their farm is in dire straits after much drought. He thinks he's to become a novice of the priests there, but instead he is sent to the mines far below the temple itself. As well as priests, the temple needs the coal and the ore to do their religious smithing and there are thousands of slaves toiling below the temple in the mines.

Danger lurks around every corner; cave-ins, people from other crews who might steal your tally if they sense even an ounce of weakness. Sometimes the lucky ones do get called to serve in the temple above, but only a few and the rest live and die in the darkness below.

Kharios is a novice of the Forgefather, the god of the temple. Their faith is based around metal and smithing, one I have never seen in a fantasy book before. It's fascinating and intriguing in equal measures.

Aspirant, the underground city, seemed very in tune with what a mining town would be like. You need equipment, you have to pay a tally for it. Everything costs, nothing is free, not even the chemlamps the miner's need for safety. 

The author caught the sense of a mine really well. I've been down a few and they do feel claustrophobic and as if something is watching you from the darkness. The world building was fantastic and you really got a feel for this society and the characters within it.

Just a head's up that there are some scenes of sexual assault/abuse by one of the priests who preys on the younger novices. I don't think it was done for shock value and the author handled it very sensitively, but it is there even if mostly off-screen.

The pacing is just about right. The author gives you enough explanation/description, but is not overly bogged down with it so that the plot keeps going and isn't stuck at a standstill while you get twenty pages describing an anvil. The author doesn't do that. Wynn is almost a stand-in for the reader, as he doesn't know a lot about the religion and while he gets instruction, the reader does too without the knowledge seeming forced.

Great characterisation, the prose flowed well and all in all an excellent story that reels you in and keeps you there. If you're looking for an original fantasy novel, you won't go far wrong with this one.
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If the mines had taught him anything, it was that it was never a good idea to stick your neck out. Especially when the headsman is already looking at somebody else.

Introduction

‘Faithless’, authored by Graham Austin-King, is the first book in his new fantasy series. ‘Faithless’ is set in a claustrophobic minimalist setting – a temple and the mine that supplies it. The book is dark, brutal and does not shirk away from reprehensible issues like child abuse. Ultimately, this is a book about human nature – what does faith mean, how do we aspire to become better and the abuses of power and authority.


Recommendation

I strongly recommend ‘Faithless’ to readers of general fiction. I loved this book for its realistic protagonist, supporting characters and general writing.

The protagonist is not your cookie cutter typical fantasy force of destruction. He is flawed as are all the other characters. He has been driven base cowardly behaviour as a means of survival due to his being beaten down by the world. His hero’s journey is basically a reflection of his climb back towards more moral behaviour

The book was brilliant. I think the best way to summarize it as a mix of ‘Fountainhead’, ‘Thud!’ and ‘The Cleric Quintet’. ‘Faithless’ is the alloy which we get out of these very different books.

The first two thirds of the book are heavily focused on craft and faith. The religion in this book is based on smithy. The god who used to express himself in the process of smithing (not smiting though he did that too) has now been missing for a long time. The church is trying to carry-on without its god and faith (or the lack of it) takes the focus. While no gifts and miracles are forth coming, the smithing craft is still revered and is a core tenet of the church. But the dark underside to this is the mine which supplies the church with its ore. Aspirants are taken to the mine first and only those found worthy are brought to the church. These two settings form the background for the story. Our protagonist (and others) struggle to survive in the mine and the church. I found this part of the book outstanding.

The last one third of the book focuses more on spirits and divine magic. While this section provides the climax (of the book and the hero’s journey), I found it to be less enthralling. I felt that the change in tone was abrupt and the book suddenly seemed to veer in a direction that is more commonly travelled. Don’t get me wrong. The book is still good. It is just that this transition was probably not needed and could have been dealt with better.
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"What little we know of the truth is remarkably dull. There was no cataclysm, no day of judgment. No voice called down from the heavens condemning us all as sinners. There was only silence, but even a silence can be terrifying if it falls in the right place. Between one day and the next the voice of the Forgefather fell silent. Our priests could no longer hear him in the fires of their forges. Holy rituals ceased to have any meaning, defenders were unable to call on the powers they relied on in battle. In a single night our church ceased to have any meaning."

A world without a God. Everything they ever relied on gone in an instant. A Church trying to bring back the power they relied on for centuries. Slaves mining for precious metals in a crammed underground city with no way out. One boy making his way from the mines to the temple only to be pushed back down for trying to do the right thing...

"Hope is an illusion, a distant ethereal dream."

This was one intense book! The atmosphere was depressing and it felt like there was nowhere for any of the characters to go. The things that happened somewhere in the middle came totally unexpected, and wow was it dark... I don't usually go for books that are enjoying such a hype because I usually get burned, but in this case I am really glad I gave in and gave this a chance. It was difficult to read at times, and I set it aside a number of times because it was so crushing, it felt like they would never have any hope to change their lot. Watching Wynn claw his way out of the mines was a depressing ride, and I loved that he wasn't simply a whiny chosen one who resented the fact that he had the power to change things, that he was a coward, and a bit of a failure, and that in the end, he managed to rise after all he had been through. If you like your fantasy dark and with a touch of horror, go check this out, it is well worth it!
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4.5 out of 5 Stars

It’s really ironic that for a book titled ‘Faithless’, it instead did the opposite by restoring my faith in self-published fantasy.

My friend who recommended it to me told me that this is a “New fantasy seriously worth your time.” and hey, she’s damn right about it. I’ve read plenty of grimdark fantasy and in my opinion, this is one of the most original ones. In fact, I can safely say I’ve never read any grimdark fantasy like this book. 

The plot in Faithless is quite dark, like the title, it deals a lot with heavy topics surrounding faith and religions. Honestly, I love the plot, it’s not a comfy read for sure, and it’s never meant to be. I’ll mention this part right from the start of the review, there’s a scene that happens off screen dealing with child molestations and pedophilia, these parts are not easy to read, seriously I’ll be surprised if anyone found it easy to do so. Do know however that this is appropriate for the story the author is trying to tell. It’s not there just for the sake of making the story darker, it’s not, these events provide a lot of color and meaning to the motivations of the characters in the book.

“History is full of brutal and ruthless men. They usually call them ‘victors’.”

The pacing may be slow paced, and yet it’s very compelling to read. This is due to the growing tension of the story with the turn of each page until it eventually reached the eventful and thrilling climax sequence. Admittedly, there was one moment somewhere in the middle of the book where I feel the pacing drags a bit but that’s really the only minor con I had on this book. Unlike most books I’ve read in the genre, Faithless brought something new to the genre, which I’ll get into later on. However, as good as the plot is, it’s not the best factors of the book. Judging solely from the plot, it won’t make this book reached the marvelous quality it has. It’s all the other elements surrounding it that made Faithless burned brightly.

There are only two main characters to follow here. Wynn, a 15 years old innocent boy who was sold by his father to work in the mines of Aspiration, and Kharios, a novice in the Temple of the Forgefather who’s facing many obstacles, that I can’t tell to avoid spoilers. The characterizations towards these two characters are something I truly appreciate. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t lovable characters but they’re very realistic. These characters at the core are good people, but they made some questionable decisions that maybe from reading alone, you’ll probably think “what the hell?” cause I certainly did think so, but, let’s not hastily jump to conclusion. I always try my best to put myself in the character's situation to know whether their decisions, good or bad make sense or not and you know what? Thinking about it, I honestly have no idea what I’ll do if I were put in some of the characters shoes here. This is a sign of great characterization in the grimdark genre for me, combined with Graham’s beautiful prose; I really enjoyed reading how the main and side characters develop throughout the whole book.

“His faith was not built from a belief in the existence of the Forgefather, it was from a need to set things right.”

The best part of the book for me hands down lies within its world-building. You won’t see the characters here travel the world; the setting of the book took place mostly in a maze of a gigantic mine. However, don’t let this fool you into thinking that there is no sense of history or mythologies to be found just because of the constricted setting. This is where Graham excels in, despite the setting being mostly in a mine, there is still enough history for you to dive into. Plus, as someone who has worked in a mining industry, I can guarantee you that Graham has successfully captured the darkness of the mine and the implication of the setting towards the characters greatly. Last but not least, Smithing. Personally, this is a huge plus for me because growing up as a gamer, I’ve always been intrigued by the process of weapon creation and strengthening. Up to this day I still follow and watch all Man at Arms videos on YouTube, obviously that’s about all the real knowledge I know on the topic, I’m not an expert here unless it’s in video games. The intricacy that was done towards its world-building shows how much research was done by the author, and in a way, it’s also what separates Faithless from other books in the genre and made it a new experience to read.

If you’re skipping on this book just because it’s labeled indie, I think you’re making a big mistake because it’s better than most published books out there and you ought to give this a try if you want something original in your grimdark read. The story also concludes itself within one book while saving some stuff in case there is a continuation, regardless whether it's a standalone or a series, this is definitely a great book. To compare it with other Indie fantasy I’ve read so far, I think of Faithless highly as I think of Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft. They’re totally different from each other, but both are some of the best Indie fantasy I’ve read so far and something I’ll definitely recommend to fantasy readers.
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In the temple of the Forgefather, fallen priests chant endlessly to an absent god, shaping metal through ritual and half-forgotten arts. Beneath them, in the subterranean city of Aspiration, miners scrabble for ore in cramped tunnels and try to resist the lure of the hungry dark.

Once, the Forgefather's voice rang in every hammer blow, and priests wielded divine power to strike down enemies of the faith. But the Forgefather has been silent for countless years now, and much of the priesthood's power has been lost.

When an attempt to regain that power goes terribly wrong and unleashes horrors into the temple, a novice flees down into the darkness of the mines. Deep under the death, he seeks salvation, redemption, and the last whispers of a dead god. 

I really enjoyed Faithless. It's a story about complex morality and difficult situations, and the author doesn't pull punches. Neither the mines nor the temple are easy places to survive, and the characters face consequences for their choices. The book is gritty without being grimdark, realistic rather than gratuitous.

The setting is original and interesting. The author builds up a complex society and culture effectively, without spending too much time showering the reader with information. That's a definite achievement when so much of the setting is outside the standard fantasy parameters. The society in the book hangs together convincingly - it's clear how all the different parts fit together, and what life is actually like for the characters. There are only a few, brief places where the strings are visible and the world loses that sense of realism.

Throughout the book, the atmosphere is dark and oppressive, which is fitting for something set almost entirely underground. Darkness both is, and feels like, an actual character. The claustrophobia and fear felt by the characters comes through really strongly. A real strength of this book is that character emotions are convincing and understandable - when they make the wrong choices out of fear or shame, you sympathise, rather than judge.

Graham Austin King makes some unusual structural choices, and it takes a while for the grand shape of the narrative to come through. That's not a criticism - not everything should be linear, and it's done for a clear purpose. It is a little unexpected though.

My only real gripe with Faithless was that some scenes progressed a little too quickly, which meant that some of the emotional punches weren't that hard. In a few places, there needed to be more build-up and preparation for a change in character mindset or goals. The changes made sense, but more justification was required to make them feel real.

All in all, Faithless is one of the most original and engaging works of fantasy I've read in quite some time. It's got a complex world and interesting ideas. I'd strongly recommend it.
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I enjoyed the writing in this, and the plot was an interesting concept and King creates an immersive setting. The world setting was pretty original and atmospheric, and the theme of a corrupt religion is traditional fantasy that works, with the added mystery of what happened to cause the 'fall'. It was compelling, and I wanted to keep reading, although the beginning 50%+ was pretty slow, and then all the action happened in the last 25%. 

I found Kharios quite unlikable - he was selfish and not a traditional 'hero', but that made him more of a realistic person and most of his choices were understandable. 

But, at times, I felt like he just did things because they needed to happen to advance the story, rather than because its a logical or sensible choice that a character would make. There was also a major plot point explained with 'I just know', which didn't add to the story, and was one of the key things we were working towards. 

The two main point of view characters were interesting, and provided a good balance of life in the mines and life outside it, but parts of it were confusing as you sort of expected the stories to be running in parallel, but they were actually jumping around over time.

There was also a lot of dwelling on peadophilia and rape, which to me, didn't add a huge amount to the plot. You can make a character evil without caricaturing
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Something about this just did not click right with me. I couldn't get into this book at all, and alas the writing was what made it so difficult for me to read it in the first place.
Although the world is rather interesting but the way it is written, fails to make me want to read it. It feels more tedious and bland than simple enough for me to read. Something just didn't sit well with me with this book. I just couldn't get into it.
Apart from the writing was also the characters and dialogue. It just went flat on me and I did not really want to read it at all. Nothing was really sucking me into this book at all. It simply wasn't my taste and simply wasn't my style. I'll have to consider it, it's not you, it's me.
However, I do recommend that you check it out and perhaps this might be it for you especially if you like epic fantasy. I guess I should avoid epic fantasy from now on, seeing as I enjoy it slightly or simply don't like it at all. And well, this just wasn't one of them which I like at all. And I prefer dark fantasy which features a more unique character or with intrigue at its centre.
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I kept putting this book down to start others but when I went back to it I'm so glad I persevered.
its a slow burner but when you get into it, really grabs you and I for one kept reading long into the night.
, both the leads Wynn and Kharios are characters that are flawed but believable. 
the setting is so well described it conjures up such vivid images its hard to believe that its underground.
I wont add spoilers as its not fair to spoil such a good book but if you love fantasy novels where  the heroes are as flawed as the rest of us and a book that grabs you and doesn't let go, the give it a read

thanks to netgalley for my ARC
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I find this a really hard book to review, because the author obviously has brains and talent, and I found much  of it intriguing and compelling, but in the end the aspects I couldn't get on with won, and I abandoned at the half way mark.  I thought that the mines and temples setting was very well described; claustrophobic and intense.  The religious order was cool, if a little reminiscent of the Hammerites from the Thief games.  The prose was good, though I was thrown by some dialogue that seemed incongruous (I'm pretty sure there are no "babysitters" in the world described).  The pacing was good.  My problems were threefold.  I found the world building confusing.  I couldn't decide if the setting was a deliberately absurdist parody of oppressive society, or supposed to be realistic, fully realised, alternate world. For me it too often fell uncomfortably between the two.  In a similar vein, while I could relate to  the two main characters, they were both young men with limited concerns and hinterlands, which left me feeling the book was in an uncomfortable middle ground between YA and adult.
Overall, if you want a heady mix of mining town violence, perverted religion and fantasy, in the vein of Paul Hoffman's Redeemers, or Alien 3 or Enemy Mine, then I think you'd have a lot of fun with this one, but overall I was left with the impression that the author was capable of much more.
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The claustrophobic and oppressive atmosphere in the dark passages and caverns of the mine pervades through the writing and is a real testament to the burgeoning talent of Graham Austin-King.

This novice author builds a unique and haunting world within the backdrop of the Fallen faith of the Forgefather. The Forgefather is beautifully described as "an echo of the whisper that brought light to the darkness... a glorious accident that brought fire to the flames".

We are introduced to Wynn, a farm boy sold into servitude by his father. Unfortunately, Wynn is for most parts of the novel a bit of a dullard. Any reader reading the sample of this novel is only exposed to this rather weak main character and may have little enticement to persist in purchasing this novel. It would be a grave mistake to judge Faithless by its opening chapters.

It is only with the introduction of the Kharios that we begin to appreciate the promise of the author's writing and the world that he is creating. Kharios is by far the more interesting character, the tortured Novice who is battling with his faith within the strictures of the temple.

There is also a fantastic twist towards the end as the worlds of Wynn and Kharios collide, a twist I certainly did not see coming. 

Persevere through the opening chapters and you are in for a real gem.
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The book can be summed up in 6 words: 

I. Did. Not. See. That. Coming. 


So I'd noticed this book on my feed a fair few times recently. If you read fantasy, bet you have too. All glowing reviews. Even so, I'm picky about this genre so it took a while to convince me to give it a go. 

Initially it looked like there was nothing that new here, but just because we have the same ingredients doesn't mean me and Mary Berry will make an identical cake. 

Instead of a well worn 'chosen one' story, this boots you in the face with gritty realism and complex morality. It's uncomfortable reading, each character's not so heroic choices become your own if you can only admit it to yourself. These people don't need you to like them, but they do demand a hefty dose of honesty to be understood. 

Each and every time I became comfortable in the book, Austin-King woke me with a big open hand slap to the face. Partly this was because I hadn't read the blurb properly and I heartily recommend this as the surprises are way more fun that way. The rest of it was all the author making good choices. One of those was the depth of the world, mine setting, and story of the Forgefather. Exquisite in detail yet never lost in itself, it's so richly relayed that you practically choke on the coal dust. Right down to the named hammer strokes and religious chants that make up part of the magic system, every moment and every piece of information has been thought through. It all has meaning and as a reader, I could feel it. 

Then there's a whole load of shocks, horrible deaths, thrilling fight and escape sequences, more grisly deaths, and a crazy, brilliant end sequence that finishes the immediate story but leaves the future wide open. I already want more. 

Highly recommended. 



ARC via Netgalley.
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I enjoyed this book quite a lot. The first part of the book was definitely 5*, but I wasn't enitrely convinved by the odd twist in the middle. For me, it went down to 3* as I struggled to figure out what was happening and why. However, the questions I had were resolved (mostly) towards the end of the book, which put it firmly back onto 4*. 

I enjoyed the twin perspectives of Wynn and Kharios, although at times, it was difficult to marry the timelines together, but again, this was resolved later on in the book

It will be interesting to see where the next book goes from here, and I look forward to readint it.
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