Cover Image: Zachareth

Zachareth

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Member Reviews

I received a copy of this work from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Robbie MacNiven has managed to create an intriguing glimpse into the mind of someone who will become a villain, in the time before he makes that ultimate misstep. This is one of the best of the "books derived from games" genre.  MacNiven successfully paints both a fascinating world, and a central figure that is tortured by his circumstances, and by the decisions he is forced to make. While the novel's roots are visible, the author skillfully manges to make the plot and storyline interesting and fast paced enough to allow one to really get into the scenario. I'll be looking for more from this author and would say that Zachareth easily deserves a 4 out of 5... and even a 9 out of 10.
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One of the things that I love the most about the books being produced by Aconyte is that its introducing me to worlds that I've never experienced before, producing stories about games that I've only ever heard about, but have never had the chance to play. Descent: Legends of the Dark is one of these worlds, a game that I'd only heard whispers of in gaming shops. As such, I went into Zachareth a complete novice, with no knowledge or expectations; but I soon found myself wanting to experience more of this amazing fantasy setting.

The story follows the life of Zachareth Carth, a figure that will probably be familiar to fans of the series as he's one of the main antagonists of the game. Zachareth is described as being something of a figure that divides peoples opinions on whether he's a villain, or simply a dark hero; and the book very much explores this idea by showing a descent down a path that leads to some dangerous places, making deals with some dark folk, but always doing so from a place of wanting to do the right thing.

The novel begins years before Zachareth has become the figure from the game, when he's a young boy living in his fathers keep, Castle Talon. Barely into his teens, Zachareth hates his studies, doesn't get on with his ageing and angry father, and distrusts Leanna, his fathers elven adviser. His anger and frustration gets pushed to a breaking point during the Silver Tourney, an event that sees several of the surrounding baronies travelling to his home to compete with each other, when he comes to blows with the son of a rival. Zachareth is an angry teen, one who wants to simply lash out at the world, to find the easiest solution and take it as quickly as he can. Over the course of these chapters we get to see Zachareth getting taught his first important lessons in life; that sometimes there are better way to achieve his goals that simple force.

From here the book jumps forward several years as Zachareth prepares to become a man, ready to take his oath. The years have been good to Zachareth, and he's become an attentive student to his teacher, seeking out knowledge wherever he can find it. Whilst this has broadened his horizons considerably, and make him into a much more even headed man, his relationship with his father is still strained. At his banner hold ceremony Zachareth announces to the assembled nobles that he intends to leave Carthridge to study at Greyhaven, a prestigious university, where he plans to try to learn the secrets of rune magic to help him protect his future barony. His father is appalled at this idea, yet Zachareth leaves his home and sets out to learn what he can. With murmurs of undead at his home's borders, and his father growing more and more resentful of his son each day, Zachareth becomes determined to learn every magical secret that he can to protect his home; but this begins a journey that will lead Zachareth to some truly dark places.

I know that the book described this as an origin story for one of the game's 'most notorious villains', but I didn't come away from this book with that impression. Zachareth is not a villain. Or at least he's not a simple villain by the end of this book. He is, if anything, a man with a desire to do good who makes a few mistakes, and finds himself walking down the wrong path.

With so many villains in media wanting to conquer other lands, to wipe out certain peoples, or to amass power simply for the sake of having it I think it's fair to say that we've all had swathes of fairly simple villains in the past. We might often be able to see where those villains started from, yet end up condemning their means. There's a certain point where killing innocents means you've gone too far. Zachareth never has any moments like this in this book. He doesn't weight up one life versus many, he doesn't consider certain sacrifices to be worth it. He constantly wants to do what is best for his people. That's all.

Because of this, and because of the place where MacNiven has to have the character end up, there was never a time when the character felt dull or uninteresting. Knowing that this person is destined to end up a villain meant that I was constantly weighing up everything that they were going through, and all of the choices they were making. I was considering whether the choices they were making were right, if the actions they were taking could be considered justified, and if they'd made that turn into the villainous. I ended up engaging with the text a lot more than I thought, and I found that I came to care for Zachareth more than I was expecting because I felt this kind of odd sympathy for him. I could see that he was trying to be a good, decent protector for his home; but I was also aware that this would not have the outcome that he was hoping for.

Over the course of his journey Zachareth takes the readers to some interesting locations. As I've said, I'm not familiar with this setting, so I don't know how many of these are locations that will be familiar to players and how many are newly created by MacNiven, but there is a wonderful and varied mix. Zachareth's home of Castle Talon feels like a very traditional fantasy style lords home. It's a castle in a more norther, remote location that means the people are hardier and used to war, especially with the shared border to a land where the undead walk. You could make the comparison to the North in A Song of Ice and Fire, and that wouldn't be a completely wrong comparison as I did get those kind of vibes from it.

There's also Greyhaven, a city built around the school that sits at its heart. Everything in the city seems geared around this seat of learning, from the school itself to the shops that sell supplies to students, bars for people to relax, and import for the many needed supplies. It felt like a bustling, ancient city where people were always rushing around getting from one class to another, and it really did feel like the fantasy equivalent of a bustling university campus. We also visit another city that seems to have a much darker kind of feel to it, a creepy remote island, mist shrouded bog-lands, and we even get a traditional fantasy tavern thrown into the mix too. Despite only seeming to take place in one small corner of this hugely fleshed-out world there's a sense of scale to things here, and it feels like a bustling, lived in world.

MacNiven also includes a number of action scenes throughout the book, adding a nice break to the wonderful world building and character development. It's clear that MacNiven knows his stuff, and the fights feel like they leap off the page and are wonderfully clear and easy to follow. He gives plenty of detail, enough that you can clearly picture everything that's happening, and you'll soon find yourself getting swept up by the grandeur of it. Despite knowing that Zachareth must come out of every combat alright due to this being his origin story, MacNiven makes it always feel like there's a large degree of risk during these moments, and you never quite feel safe for the characters; especially towards the final chapters.

Zachareth: A Descent: Legends of the Dark Novel was a book that I found to be intriguing from the first time I saw the gorgeous cover and read the blurb, but I never expected it to grab me the way this did. I ended up devouring the book, desperate to keep reading to find out what happened next. This became a world that I went from knowing nothing about to being really invested in, with some of the best morally complex characters I've read in a long time. Part of me is angry that this is a first volume, because it means that I have to wait to get more of this character; but on the other hand, as someone who absolutely loved this book I'm extremely happy to know that I'm going to be getting more of this in the future.
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Zachareth is the first in a new series of fantasy novels by Aconyte books that explores the past of one of Descent: Legends of Dark’s most notorious villains. It may come as no surprise I was excited for this since I seem to have a bit of a soft spot for villains. I can say I was not disappointed one bit.
 
The novel follows the title character (obviously!) Zachareth Baron of Carthridge who is a driven, ruthless and obsessive man who could be a hero but he wants so much more than that. Growing up to see his father fall deeper under the sway of a sorceress, Zachareth begins to crave the power and knowledge to sever the ties she has ensnared his father with. Arguably a noble cause. He begins tutelage at Greyhaven planning to master runemagic  but when a tutor introduces him to forbidden magic, Zachareth discovers there is more to power than meets the eye. Upon returning to his barony he finds it on the verge of rebellion and beset by necromantic foes. Thrust into the middle of this Zachareth must finally choose his true path one between virtue and heroism or that of darkness and villainy- but the line between the two is finer than most imagine.
 
I would say I wasn’t sure what to expect from this tie-in novel that delves into the history of Zachareth but I wouldn’t be exactly honest. Having read works by Robbie MacNiven before I was sure it would be fantastic. I was not wrong. Once again Aconyte and MacNiven have managed to bridge the gap that tie-in fiction creates and have done so in a fantastic way. The book is a wonderful introduction to the world for those new to the game and for those who are veterans or at least have played Descent before it adds to the lore of the characters in believable ways.
 
While it might not delve too deep into morality MacNiven does a great job at capturing the inner conflict and turmoil Zachareth feels when he is faced with certain dilemmas. While staying true to the game it also could be taken as a standalone fantasy. The world is brought to life by MacNiven, as always, and made something of his own. Zachareth in the book is believable, likeable and while he might not always make the right choice but we understand why he makes that decision. This is something I love about tie-in fiction and something Aconyte and their authors do perfectly and that is we get to see a greater depth to the character, what drives them, what makes them choose their path.
 
I honestly cannot recommend this enough. A fantastic standalone fantasy, a wonderful stepping stone into the world of Descent or a way to get more lore and depth to characters of the game. A definite must read if you like the game or fantasy in general.
 
This wonderful title will be available on April 5th with the paperbacks following on the 26th April for the US and 7th July for the UK.
 
ROBBIE MACNIVEN is a Highlands-native History graduate from the University of Edinburgh. He is the author of several novels and many short stories for the New York Times-bestselling Warhammer 40,000 and Age of Sigmar universe, and the narrative for HiRez Studio’s Smite Blitz RPG.
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The cover drew me in and then the blurb hooked me. I love villain stories!
We start getting to know Zachareth, the heir of Carthridge, in his youth and his relationship to his father and his father's adviser Leanna. I genuinely enjoy castle life and it reminded me a lot of Dragonbone Chair, but in a good way. Growing up we see his life and studies at university and the looming threat of the undead that begin to amass an army at the borders. There's fights, intrigue and magic galore.

I can highly recommend this to any fantasy fans, that are looking for an enjoyable read that is not too complicated (like Malazan).

Thank you Netgalley for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
I will pick up more from this author in the future.
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Thanks to my three sons Warhammer has never been a stranger in our household since its inception in the '80s. I have played the games and read the novels, so picking up Zachareth by Robbie MacNiven was not exactly a step in the dark where the reading matter was concerned.
Zachareth certainly fulfilled my expectations. I always look for the three M's in a Fantasy novel: Magic, Mystery and Mayhem, and Zachareth certainly had plenty of each criterion. 
The world-building is reasonably fleshed out but has room for development. The main characters having a variety of different personalities make for excellent protagonists and antagonists. And there is sufficient scope for development there also.
The descriptions of fight scenes are extremely vivid but without being too much of a gore-fest. But what you will find is a freshness, intensity and power in the writing, with a sprinkling of emotional turmoil in the lead characters.
I thoroughly enjoyed Zachareth and look forward to the next instalment.
Thanks to NetGalley and Aconyte Books, for the ARC.
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I really enjoyed this book and I really want to read more books from this author in the future. I really loved the book cover as well.
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So nice and easy how the reader is drawn into the story, a little scrap in the dirt, and we know two boys' names. Someone else stops the fight, we know the next guy. And the next. All the while we're dealing with action-packed scenes.
What a nice contrast to (recently read) german fantasy books.

I knew Robbie MacNiven's style from a short story that I really liked. Also I found my way back to reading books for fun by way of Warhammer literature and I have a pretty high regard for them: they know how to choose writers who can tell a gripping story.
It's the same here, I have more hits than misses (only one miss so far actually) with Aconyte books. MacNiven does not disappoint: the story starts off fast and has actiona nd humor and at no point does it drag on unnecessarily.

That said, yes, it is tie-in fiction so please don't expect the thickest of plots or morals, but a nice fantastic adventure through a world you might already know and enjoy!

The ending is a bit too open for my taste. So many questions are left open, so many ways to explore for Zachareth. All of this makes the climax of the presented story seem a lot smaller than it actually is.
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