Title: Aching God
Author: Mike Shel
Rating: 5 out of 10 (NOT OFFICIAL SCORE; TSWI SCORE ONLY)
Blurb: “Closer, mortal. You are here, finally, to feed the Aching God…”
The days of adventure are passed for Auric Manteo. Retired to the countryside with his scars and riches, he no longer delves into forbidden ruins seeking dark wisdom and treasure. That is, until old nightmares begin plaguing his sleep, heralding an urgent summons back to that old life.
To save his only daughter, Auric must return to the place of his greatest trauma: the haunted Barrowlands. With only a few inexperienced companions and an old soldier, he must confront the dangers of the ancient and wicked Djao civilization. Auric has survived fell beasts, insidious traps, and deadly hazards before. But can he contend with the malice of a bloodthirsty living god?
First book in the Iconoclasts trilogy, Aching God is the debut novel of RPG adventure designer Mike Shel. He is working on book 2, Sin Eater. The first two chapters of Sin Eater are included at the end of Aching God.
**Spoilers do abound in this review, so please stay vigilant and read at your own peril**
Friends, we have finally reached the end of the road for SPFBO–for me, personally, at least, for SPFBO 4, as Aching God by Mike Shel was the last novel I had left to read.
I’m sorry to report that I don’t think it’s the novel for me.
Don’t mistake me, there are some good elements within this novel, so I want to make those all clear upfront, as the rest of this is going to be a little more on the critique heavy side. Also, I definitely seem to be in the minority amongst many respected bloggers and friends, so if this book sounds up your alley, I highly recommend you got and check it out, so you can make your own conclusions!
I loved the core plot of the novel. Give me an adventure quest story any day, I’m trash for that trope and don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of it. I also thought how many of the religious sects seemed to live in harmony and support with one another was quite well done and refreshing, instead of their religious differences being the core of the dispute.
I also really, really loved Belech.
But, aside from that, the rest of this book fell a little flat for me.
I think my core issues were the pacing, characterization and logical issues.
Auric and company are set on a quest to reach the Barrowlands, to return a relic that has onslaught a sudden epidemic throughout the kingdom. I was very on board with this storyline! And a lot of these criticisms could be a result of my own misinterpretations, but I assumed that they would reach the Barrowlands much sooner and spend a core chunk of the novel actually dealing with the tribulations within??
Instead, it took over 400 pages of an 800 page novel to reach the Barrowlands and almost 630 pages before they even begin adventuring inside the crypt (according to the ereader app I used to read it). And they constantly had to ask permission to even go on this quest, repeatedly, despite the fact that the kingdom was suffering from sickness, including Auric’s own daughter. I dunno, it just lacked a sense of agency to me, especially for Auric and his own personal stake with his daughter’s life, even if they are slightly estranged. I would have thought the core of the novel would have been battling in the Barrowlands, not battling for permission to go there. And, even if they did continue to have these delays, I would have thought Auric would have responded more passionately against them, with his daughter’s life at stake.
Then, once we reach the Barrowlands, it all felt too…easy? The quickly work through it, kill the Aching God and then begin the return journey, where suddenly, everything wraps up in three chapters and we don’t even get to see Auric’s reunion, once he returns (I’m so sorry, but I completely spaced on her name)? That felt so sudden, so the ending felt a little incomplete, after the battle of the Barrowlands felt a little lackluster.
With the characterization, I felt like I knew and understood Auric well and I positively adored Belech–like, loved him to pieces
(which is why his death felt so unnecessary to me, even though I could predict it, because Auric killing the Aching God did feel so easy). Yet beside those two and Sira, the rest of the travelers felt one-dimensional to me. I didn’t feel like I really got to know them and none of them left any lasting impressions or elicited any true emotions or investments from me. Especially Gnaeus, who just grated on me and felt honestly exhausting with his one-dimensionality. So I would have liked to get to know our adventurers better and truly form connections with them, so I could actually root for them.
Also, I do have to note that I thought Queen Geneviva’s story was fucking fascinating and I almost…wanted to read more about her story instead of this one? Like, her story to a rise of power and the subsequent rise of a new (and dangerous) god to keep it, only to descend into rotting madness is just bloody incredible and I want to read all of that in-scene.
Lastly, there were some logical checks that didn’t check out for me. After Del’s death, they are suddenly left without anyone who can translate or speak the words of a dead language that’s required to open the sealed egg homing the jewel they need to return. Another character comes up with a quick solution that isn’t fully explained and they move on quickly, but it felt odd that they would only have one adventurer with that talent, when it could have proved so important? Or that another character was easily able to solve what Del’s main role was meant to be? Or the fact that Auric is coincidentally given the sword needed to kill the Aching God? Or the betrayal that led their party going down to five members was so glossed over, I almost forgot it happened?
It all just felt…too easy, especially after we spent so much time building up to it.
Unfortunately, Aching God didn’t deliver for me and I wish I could say differently. I don’t deny that being in the middle of a reading slump and getting my wisdom teeth removed in the middle of reading this novel on a deadline probably didn’t put any extra points in it’s corner. But, you can’t love them all.
Hopefully, though, you check the book out if it interests you, and enjoy it much more than I did (as, like I mentioned, many friends adore this one). Especially as the sequel, Sin Eater, is slated to come out later this month, on May 20th.