Duty-bound as son of the High Priest of Baelon, Maurin has resigned himself to an arranged marriage for the sake of his people. His cousin Aric yearns only for freedom and an escape from the visionary dreams that plague him. A single day of terror changes their lives forever. Now, slaves on a world they never dreamed existed, they find themselves caught up in a quest for freedom and the struggle against a tyrant’s throne.
They call her champion. Blood Goddess. Dania knows she is but a slave. Until the night she claims her freedom in blood. She will never submit to chains again, even if it means her own life…
Valasand Del Sirine is a Warden of the Gates, sent to Argoth on a secret mission. Her goal has been to find and eradicate the man responsible for defiling the Temple’s old colony with the scourge of a vile traffic. But there are whispers of an even greater darkness, gathering strength in the Gray Lands to the north…
Your dead shall rise against you…
All four find themselves linked in a common web of destiny, facing an evil beyond reckoning. Their only hope may lie in ancient prophecy – and in Valasand’s mysterious god…
I received an advance copy of Bid the Gods Arise in exchange for a review. As such, I had the unique opportunity to read this book without ever seeing a synopsis. I almost hesitate to write anything further as it would deprive potential readers here of the same experience. For those who wish for it, you can stop reading. For all others – read on.
The book starts as what appears to be a well-conceived work of “sword and sorcery”-style high fantasy. This on its own was enough to hold my interest as someone who had read and enjoyed other works in this genre. Then the narrative seamlessly transitions into a “Dune”-style space opera. I’ll point out here that these two terms are vastly over-simplified – author Robert Mullin has not just bridged these two genres but transcended them. Bid the Gods arise introduces us to a richly detailed universe – The Wells of the Worlds – that equally incorporates technological and “magical” elements. This world is more advanced than ours in a few, significant respects while behind in some and taking a completely different path in others. I personally would love to see the “tech bible” for his series.
Most contemporary high fantasy suffers from being pure derivations from Lord of the Rings. To a lesser extent, much can be said about the influence of Star Wars and Star Trek on the space opera genre. Mullin’s universe, however, emulates Tolkien’s project while utilizing entirely different source materials. In place of Norse and Finnish mythology, Mullin repurposes UFO and ancient astronaut theories as the basis of his secondary world. The story of Bid the Gods Arise takes place in just one corner of a vastly larger universe still waiting to be explored.
With a few exceptions, the book’s world-building is done organically. There is some exposition, but mostly at appropriate points in the narrative. A constant note of suspense and mystery balanced out the slower-paced passages. I also immensely enjoyed the characterization and chemistry of the two main characters: one is a “rule follower” with fairly rigid habits and beliefs while the other is a restless “maverick” who chafes at restrictions. Each supply something that’s lacking in the other, and their unique relationship drives much of the story.
I was particularly drawn to Maurin’s character arc. His struggle between attachment to his old life and beliefs (mainly an arranged, incomplete marriage vow on his old world) and embracing a new future (mainly a new love interest on his new world) is artfully tied into another central theme of the story: coming out from an old life serving old gods and a new life in service to the True God. I’ve rarely come across a “traditionalist” main character who is struggling with fear of risks and adapting to new circumstances. Most “action heroes” have authority issues and play loosely with the rules. As someone with the former personality type, this was refreshing to see – most authors seemingly regard it as too “boring” to explore in fiction.
Aric’s dream visions were another particularly fascinating part of the book. They were an essential story hook from the very beginning and contributed much of the suspenseful atmosphere. They were poetically mystical in a way that reminded me of Charles William’s War in Heaven (another book I highly recommend by the way). It’s awesome to come across a contemporary writer with a similar style.
There are many themes interwoven throughout the narrative. One central motif is tyranny vs freedom (both physical and spiritual). Parallel to it is the idea of being consumed by desires that grow beyond their proper boundaries: power, self-will, pleasure, immortality, etc. Many are inherent in the structure of the imagined world itself, which is clearly shaped by Judeo-Christian theology. Unlike much “Christian fantasy”, however, it is not a straight series of renamed biblical parallels. It incorporates many thought-provoking concepts that, strictly speaking, would not apply in the “primary world.” This was particularly interesting to me as a Christian author who writes for the general market. It makes the book more than a work of purely “Christian” fiction and gives it a larger target audience.
There are a few big caveats for the sensitive reader. This book contains some infrequent uses of profanity as well as an unvarnished look at the horrors inherent in human slavery. The central antagonist is a murderous psychopath who derives pleasure from raping, torturing and killing his slaves. There’s one scene where a slave, in turn, exacts a particularly brutal revenge against her master. There are also two subplots involving sexual affairs, though these are not portrayed as positive things: in one case, a participant becomes disgusted that they are simply “using” each other; the second leads one of the characters to an extremely unwise but irreversible decision. I’ll also say that these parts of the narrative are non-graphic and tastefully crafted to portray the feelings of the characters without necessarily evoking them in the reader, which is my primary concern. I would, of course, advise strong caution for certain age groups and some will want to avoid these passages regardless.
All this considered, I give the book a solid five stars. An awesome debut from a master storyteller! I look forward to exploring more of the Wells of the Worlds.