Master of Sorrows

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Member Reviews

I did not like the writing style. Very clipped, basic, and a lot of "telling" as opposed to "showing".

Also, the idea is highly overrated, and is just something that I've seen done before. Full points for creativity, but otherwise, I'll take a pass on yet another "complex world, boy anti-hero" mythology.
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Fans of The Poppy War will, undoubtably, really appreciate this one. Both novels begin in a training academy, but slowly burst out into the real world as death approaches quickly. I really do recommend trying this if you like R.F Kuang’s writing. Justin Travis Calls’ novel is much darker from the outset, though he uses the school trope just as effectively.
For now though this is the beginnings of a new and exciting fantasy series that kept throwing surprises my way
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For a fantasy novel, I'm pretty impressed that this is a debut. The world building in this story was incredible. The plot was interesting and engaging. It suffers a bit from the typical adult high fantasy books being really long trend, but was an enjoyable read none the less
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Quite surprised that this is Justin T Call ‘s debut novel. Extremely well written epic fantasy. This is the story of Annev.He is not who he thought he was and trying to hide things about himself while he struggles to deal with everything going in around him.Fascinating yet solid world building.
Thankyou Netgalley for this ARC
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Please check out this review and others on or my personal blog

I received a copy of this from the author and publisher in exchange for my open and honest review.

Master of Sorrows by Justin Travis Call is the book I have been waiting for all year. Ainnevog, let’s call him Annev, is a boy with a simple but not easy path before him. He works as a deacon at a school and also takes classes to become an avatar there. An avatar is one who goes out into the world, finds magical items, and brings them back to the school so that they can be safely stored away. In the world that Call has created, magic use is verboten. If one is found to be using magic or has the magic gift, they are flayed alive and stoned. Passing the Avatar of Judgement classes and final tests for Annev is an all-consuming endeavor. Only the best can become an avatar. While taking his classes, Annev also studies and is guided by the school’s priest and father figure, Sodar. How will Annev balance the two halves of his life? The public half, avatar trainee and rule-follower with the secret half, magic-user, and possibly as a destined hero. That is the crux of the story, duality.

Furthermore, to add to the duality of the plot, Annev is on the precipice of manhood. Of coming into his own and knowing who he is. But, as it stands, he is not quite a boy nor a man.

Master of Shadows is in the style of Patrick Rothfuss’s epic Name of the Wind and Pierce Browns Red Rising series. They all share similar trajectories. A boy, from dubious circumstances, is thrust into a world they can not quite understand, in Master of Shadows‘ case, an anti-magic school. This boy is destined for greater things but is hampered on all sides by morally grey characters. I say they share similar trajectories, but there is nothing bland or hackneyed in Master of Shadows.

The plotting and backstory of Master of Shadows are tightly done and rich in history. Annev comes from a world of gods, precisely three major ones – all siblings. Odar, Lumea, and Keos. Two of the gods, Odar and Lumea, are still culturally and spiritually revered by the public. But the other god, Keos, is considered the betrayer. Those who are born disabled are said to have been touched by Keos. They are considered to be in Keos’s favor and are immediately put to death. But in Annev’s case, as he was born without a left hand, instead of death, he was saved and raised by Sodar. This becomes another part of the duality and line that Annev must walk. He is the antithesis of everything an Avatar of Judgement is, yet he battles and struggles to excel and achieve an Avatar position, all while hiding his disability.

One of the detractors of the story, there are very few, is the love interest between Annev and Myjun. Watching from the position of a reader, one can look at a relationship like Annev’s and Myjun’s and think it is incredibly unrealistic and sometimes silly. Annev makes buffoonish decisions that made me want to shake him. But isn’t that what it is like when you are 17? You make stupid choices because your body is going berzerk with hormones. As much as I cringed when reading about Annev’s mooning, it is a realistic detail. Annev needs to experience things like love, loss, and betrayal on his narrative path so that he is a full and round character. This relationship is something that an older and wiser Annev in later books can pull and learn from. Also, the exposition of the story in some parts was lengthy. This is necessary due to the humongous back story and cultural context that Annev’s character exists in. Sometimes, I wanted to get back to the action, but these chapters are necessary.

One of the significant strengths of the story aside from the tight plot was the relationship between Sodar and Annev. Sodar is not all that he seems. He was living a double life; one as a priest to the students the other as scholar and magic-user. The later he keeps hidden to all but Annev, whom he has raised from a baby and trusts. Sodar is the stern father figure character that attempts to guide Annev to his destiny while similarly protect him from the details of it. They have an easiness between them that has developed throughout their shared lives and is a testament to Call’s writing skills that this came off effortless. I believed in their relationship, and it presented no false notes to me.

Another major strength in this story is the tense action sequences. They flowed like water from scene to scene and are some of the best I have read. Whether Annev is battling wild contraptions in his bid for a position as an avatar or fighting Feurog’s (creatures that are made of metals, stones, and flesh), the pulse racing, edge of your seat intensity kept me reading into the late hours.

The first narrative arc for Annev is done, but his story is far from over. Master of Shadows can be read as a stand-alone novel if one desires; however, the outcome was a bit of a cliffhanger that and had me yearning for more. I want to know where this story is going. I want to more about Annev and about who accompanies him on the next part of his journey.

I hate that it hasn’t been written yet!

Master of Sorrows is one of the best books I have read this year and a perfect example of grimdark fantasy. It isn’t overly mired in negativity or cruelness. The rawer parts of grimdark and epic fantasy are there, but this story is tinged with hope in the best possible way. It is riveting, exciting, and one that is going to stick with me for a while.

I cannot wait to read the next one, solid five-star novel, and I highly recommend it.
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Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book will be available in stores on February 25th, 2020.

I can sum up this book in one word: incredible. I am in awe of Justin T. Call’s writing. I opened the book and was immediately drawn into the story. I got major Name of the Wind vibes, which is high praise indeed.

Where should I start? Well, first off, the storytelling is masterful. There wasn’t a single misstep through the whole book. This book follows Annev as he learns who he is, both in a magical sense, and a moral one. Much like Name of the Wind, the book takes its time setting the tone for all that follows. And what follows is fantasy at its finest.

The solid foundation is what took this book a step above many other fantasies I’ve read. Each little tidbit mentioned fits like a puzzle piece, making a full picture. The trials at the beginning of the book were so interesting to read. I loved seeing Annev make decisions regarding his treatment of others. Would he betray them to get ahead? I’ll leave it to you, Reader, to find out.

I loved Sodar. He tried so hard to raise and protect Annev. He made mistakes and chose to be reticent when openness might have served him better, but that’s part of what made him so fascinating. He’s such a realistic character. Although, really, all the characters were utterly believable.

The world building was excellent, the characters fantastic, and I can’t wait to see where the story goes as it continues in the sequel. Basically-wow.

Grab this book the second you’re able to.
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I wasn’t expecting to like this book as much as I did. I have been excited by the summary of a book many times lately just to find myself disappointed in the actual book. But this one... I couldn’t put it down once I started reading it! Without any spoilers, the book only takes place over a few days BUT it’s still an amazing story!
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For all lovers of epic fantasy - make sure you have a comfortable seat and plenty of time with no interruptions because you are not going to want to stop once you start. This is a remarkable novel; even more impressive when you discover it is Call's debut novel. Annev is raised in a small village geared to the training of Avatars and Masters of Judgement, seekers, and warriors who venture out into the world to track down and confiscate or steal magical artifacts for safekeeping. An ancient war between Gods and men has left the world suspicious of magic and the items magically created for anyone to use are potentially dangerous - or so the party line goes. Nothing is ever as it seems, as Annev fights for his right to move up the ranks and become an Avatar with his friends, hiding his own dark secrets which are under constant threat of discovery. Annev's journey to find his place in the world and discover the truth behind his own story is set against a remarkable world. 

It is clear throughout the story that Call has spent an incredible amount of time building his world and creating the backstory of the Gods, the magic system and the societies which inhabit the world. While this first book is mostly restricted to Annev's home village, as he fights to discover his place in the world, it is clear there is much more to be revealed. The intricate systems and world that lies beyond the confines of his village are tantalizing. While there is no rest in the action of the novel, the end will leave you longing for the next installment of the adventure and the wonders yet to be discovered. The complexity and thoroughness of Call's new epic world is a delight for all fantasy fans.
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A lot can happen in a few days. Just ask Ainnevog (just call him Annev), a deacon acolyte in the tiny, remote village of Chaenbalu. One minute, Annev is juggling duties at the Church with his mentor while training for his final shot at passing the grueling Avatar test. The next minute, he discovers he’s being hunted by a fallen evil god bent on destroying his entire bloodline. Annev learns that he is doomed to stay hidden in his village or he and everyone he knows will be annihilated. And if he somehow happens to survive for long enough, it is prophesized that he will eventually break the world. For some reason, this doesn’t have a positive effect on his love life. Poor kid. These predicaments are but a ripple in the tsunami of a story known as Master of Sorrows, Justin Call’s first book of his Silent Gods saga.

Annev is a struggling teenager with no family, raised by an old priest who has mentored him from birth. He excels at his physical challenges while training with the other boys in the town’s Academy, but his altruism is holding him back from advancement. Annev has both friends and enemies, both of which make his life difficult, but this week is his last chance to take a mysterious Avatar test before he graduates. One must be an Avatar to do anything with their life, including court and marry a woman, become gainfully employed, or even leave town. The boys who fail the test become stewards and remain that way for life.

Although there are only three or four days that pass during this book, there are an absurd number of events jam-packed in the story that allows for Annev to evolve and mature in ways that feel earned instead of rushed. Early on, Annev’s cleverness and physical prowess leads to cockiness and immaturity, but as major events are revealed, and he learns more about his place in the world, he starts to struggle with his own morality and loss of control. Some of the strongest scenes in the story are seeing how he teeters between acts of strong leadership and acts of pure malice.

One highlight to note is how Call resolves situations when many of his characters are at odds, and they formulate plans to outsmart each other. But all of Call’s characters are intelligent, so they usually guess their opponent’s intentions quickly, no matter how clever, and it’s gratifying to see that the author gives as much mental acumen to his antagonists as he does to his central characters. This also applies to all major and minor characters in the story; each are treated with care and respect, each are fully developed and fleshed out, and it’s another testament to Call’s meticulous dedication to breathing life and lore into this world where it feels like no area was neglected, and each component of its construction was thoroughly developed.

The lore that supports this story is nothing short of outstanding and echoes Sanderson’s Cosmere universe in terms of history and complexity. Not bad for a book that takes place almost entirely within a small village and its surrounding forest.  Call has mentioned that he spends hours on the phone every other weekend with his map illustrator, talking about the layout of his world, discussing the environment, the history of the continent, and the geographic plans for future volumes of the next three to potentially eleven books. I get the sense that Call has written more background history and behind-the-scenes world-building material than the published book we hold in our hands. As this series gains more traction in the years ahead, I could easily see wiki pages, dedicated subreddits, glyph interpretations, and many other fan-created discussion boards attempting to theorize and disseminate all of its mysteries.

Reading Master of Sorrows is instantly entertaining, but it also lays the groundwork for something massively rewarding in the years ahead. It is a balanced mix of palpable action, inventive revelations, and flawed characters. It is respectful of the reader’s intelligence and is impressive as it is ambitious. This is the start of a truly epic dark fantasy saga that is well worth jumping into on the ground floor.   9.3 / 10
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