Sunday, 15 November 2015

Rob Reviews After Life by Daniel Ionson

The author has kindly agreed to offer a signed paperback, kindle or nook ebook to a lucky winner. If you would like to win a copy, please leave a comment below or on our Facebook Page here. The winner will be drawn Monday the 23rd November.

“Dead, starving and lost,” grumbled Breoch. “Just perfect.”
In After Life we read of the small Dark Age /Medieval kingdom of Gaesce which is under threat both from a larger aggressive kingdom and the machinations of an evil, immortal sorcerer. Gaesce has allies in the strong magical kingdom of Aerelia overseas; whilst defending the kingdom is the small elite unit known as the Wolfhounds. Within their ranks is the main character Kaeman, with his powerfully built warrior friend Breoch and his Commander Dagoran. When the Gaescaen Seer, Mecas, returns predicting an impending threat, the three, accompanied by the Aerelian mage Alkinan, are commanded to set out and counter it.
All standard fantasy fare I hear you say? No, After Life is far from that, it is an extraordinary work of fantasy.

As Kaeman and his companions prepare to set forth we suddenly find them waking up to find that they are in a tomb, with no memory of how they got there. Breaking out of the mausoleum they face the uncomfortable reality that they are in fact dead and are trapped in a cursed, deathly land between life and paradise.
After Life is a masterfully woven tapestry of different threads, including different points of view and flashbacks between chapters. Sometimes these have a jarring effect and the reader is left a little confused, before the following chapter picks up with the main storyline once more. It soon becomes clear however that Mr Ionson has purposefully done this; he is actively keeping the reader on their toes as the story twists and turns, as the main thread continues drawing the reader in. Nothing is quite what it seems in After Life as the characters struggle to find purpose and release from their strange reality.
There is layer upon layer of magical illusion that they must find their way through They are dead and yet consumed by hunger and tempted by deceivers. When the truth of their situation becomes apparent it really is shocking, a plot twist that will leave you stunned, but at the same time making everything clear. All seems truly lost and yet there is a tantalising faint glimmer of hope.
The necessary world building, history and mythos is dealt with within the dialogue; it’s all too easy for works of fantasy to get a little clumsy dealing with this aspect but the author carefully rations this out as the story progresses. The villain is suitably evil and yet we are afforded a glimpse into his genesis from childhood into malignant, insane spirit, a puppeteer of flesh both living and dead, revelling in the horror of his works. The magic felt believable, the sorcery only coming with a price and the knowledge of names bestowing power; it reminded me somewhat of Le Guin’s Earthsea series.
After Life isn’t happy ever after (the author kills his main characters early in the story, after all!) but it is a grown up, dark, highly enjoyable fantasy with a philosophical edge. Is there an after life After Life?

The Author: Daniel lives in forest-filled southern Indiana, chasing the Muse for Dark Age fantasy, influenced by his Holy Trinity of inspirational authors: Tolkien, David Gemmell, and Bernard Cornwell.  Before being a nerd was cool, Daniel ground away his years studying philosophy and religion, and compulsively “perfecting” his fantasy RPG system as well as a half-dozen dice & miniature games. He now focuses on novel-writing, and is working on a fantasy septology, the first of this series due in the spring of 2016.

Rob Bayliss is a reviewer at The Review and is currently writing his own fantasy series. Information on his writing projects can be found at Flint & Steel, Fire & Shadow.