I am super grateful to St Martin’s Griffin for the free advanced copy of Kagen the Damned by Jonathan Maberry! All opinions are my own!
It took me forever to read this book due to work, life, and the length. I ended with mixed feelings as it had both good and bad elements. I would recommend for fans of (or readers new to) dark fantasy.
Bookish Quick Facts:
- Title: Kagen the Damned
- Series: Kagen the Damned #1
- Autbor: Jonathan Maberry
- Publisher & Release: St Martin’s Griffin – 05/10/22
- Length: 560 pages
- Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⚡ for dark fantasy fans
Kagen the Damned marks the first installment of an exciting new series of dark epic fantasy novels from bestselling author Jonathan Maberry.
Sworn by Oath
Kagen Vale is the trusted and feared captain of the palace guard, charged with protection of the royal children of the Silver Empire. But one night, Kagen is drugged and the entire imperial family is killed, leaving the empire in ruins.
Abandoned by the Gods
Haunted and broken, Kagen is abandoned by his gods and damned forever. He becomes a wanderer, trying to take down as many of his enemies as possible while plotting to assassinate the usurper, the deadly Witch-king of Hakkia. While all around him magic―long banished from the world―returns in strange and terrifying ways.
Fueled by Rage
To exact his vengeance, Kagen must venture into strange lands, battle bizarre and terrifying creatures, and gather allies for a suicide mission into the heart of the Witch-king’s empire.
Kings and gods will fear him.
This is a dark fantasy novel about the conquest of an empire and the subjective failure of one of it’s guardians. I was drawn in by the synopsis and like the idea of conquest and revenge. There is nothing terribly original about the plot or the main ideas of magic being bad and outlawed, a chosen one come back to avenge the nation, etc, but I still enjoyed it.
If nothing else the plot moves quickly, with plenty of action scenes and alternating points of view to move the story along.
Kagen shined most in it’s themes for me. The main character had to deal with letting his guilt go after he believed he was responsible for the fall of the empire and had been forsaken by his Gods. There were questions and themes of honor, oaths, oppression, monsters vs saviors, and found family. One of my favorite themes centered around What Makes a Monster? Is the conquering Witch-king a monster for decimating a nation that did much worse 1000 years ago? Is a dragon or a grotesque creature a monster just because it kills to feed itself, or is hideous?
Obviously per Grimdark there are also themes of brutal violence, in pretty much any imaginable fashion… I liked the brutality of the dark elements and the historian figure who carried his own theme of re-writing history for the victors.
I think the book is about 70/30 plot/action vs character driven
Kagen is about as morally gray as you can get, but he’s got values. I liked his story and his path to redemption. Tuke is another main character who swears by the BALLS of about 1000 different creatures, he was hilarious. The friendship/bromance between those two was hilarious and provided the comic relief
The witch-king … Is probably the most brutal A-Hole I have seen in a while, but some of his points are solid. He liked killing. A lot. His high priestess practices a rather grotesque form of necromancy that had me equal parts CRINGING and wanting to see more.
I hated one storyline though where a 20 something year old “nun” more or less lied to, then seduced her 15 year old “cousin”, and then either pretended or believed that fooling around with another female maintained their religious purity. Well .. That’s why their ritual didn’t entirely succeed.
A few other things:
I think I needed more from the magic. There wasn’t much described except the necromancy. How did the rest work? I also think too many modern and real elements slipped into an otherwise made-up and highly creative world (like Cthulhu. I love him but he didn’t quite fit). There was everything else from alternate realms to outer space mentioned and I think it created too much white noise in an otherwise straightforward fantasy world. I wanted more from Kagen’s dreams and the Dragon in the ice.
Hopefully in the next book.
Overall: there is a lot to process in this one but overall, I liked it. There is a lot of absolutely excellent Dark Fantasy out there and I think that this is a good one for people who might be looking to sample the genre. While it doesn’t deep dive into the world-building and fantasy elements so much, the author maintains a fairly consistent mood and keeps the book moving.
I will plan on reading the second installment when it is released!