I read The Grave Kingdom series back in 2020 as ARCs, and found that oddly enough the first review never made it into my blog! Now that I am trying to organize back content I definitely had to rectify that situation. I am back writing this based on my Instagram thoughts and notes from my reading journal!
Bookish Quick Facts:
- Title: The Killing Fog
- Series: The Grave Kingdom #1
- Author: Jeff Wheeler
- Publisher & Release: 47 North, March 2020
- Length: 413 pages
- Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⚡
Here is the synopsis from Amazon:
The Wall Street Journal bestselling author of the Kingfountain series conjures an epic, adventurous world of ancient myth and magic as a young woman’s battle with infinite evil begins.
Survivor of a combat school, the orphaned Bingmei belongs to a band of mercenaries employed by a local ruler. Now the nobleman, and collector of rare artifacts, has entrusted Bingmei and the skilled team with a treacherous assignment: brave the wilderness’s dangers to retrieve the treasures of a lost palace buried in a glacier valley. But upsetting its tombs has a price.
Echion, emperor of the Grave Kingdom, ruler of darkness, Dragon of Night, has long been entombed. Now Bingmei has unwittingly awakened him and is answerable to a legendary prophecy. Destroying the dark lord before he reclaims the kingdoms of the living is her inherited mission. Killing Bingmei before she fulfills it is Echion’s.
Thrust unprepared into the role of savior, urged on by a renegade prince, and possessing a magic that is her destiny, Bingmei knows what she must do. But what must she risk to honor her ancestors? Bingmei’s fateful choice is one that neither her friends nor her enemies can foretell, as Echion’s dark war for control unfolds.
The Plot: This is an Asian based fantasy where a young girl is training to become a warrior after watching her family be slain by an invading band. The book starts on a sad note and introduces an interesting tale of magical weapons, ancient curcses, martial arts, political maneuvering, lost kingdoms, and devious dragons.
I believe this is Wheeler’s longest book and also the most slow burning of all of them. There is a lot of magic and world building to introduce (and a LOT of characters and martial arts) although I found the last 25% to be quite rewarding.
The Worldbuilding: I think the world building is the strongest element. Each Kingdom has a unique flair, with smells and foods and attitudes unique to the problems and geography of the region. I enjoyed this and it becomes important in later books as these regions and their rulers are brought back later on. I think the histories, lore, and general atmosphere of the book were quite cohesive and added a lot to the read. There is language and symbols used too (with a glossary – thank you)! Looking up the words can slow the pace down a bit but I found it worthwhile and learned soon enough. My only thing is that if anyone is listening on audio (I am not) this might become hard.
I do love Wheeler’s descriptions of settings and buildings and even climate too, everything about the environment is fused into the action and creates a very strong world build.
For more on the world and aesthetic:
The Magic: I honestly don’t remember how much is given in The Killing Fog about the Grave Kingdom and the Death Wall, but it is as if a wall separates the world from the spiritual realm. The magical weapons, curses, artifacts, and of course dragons! all add to the action
The Characters: I saved this until last because Wheeler’s biggest weakness as an author is introducing child characters. Owen and Evie (Kingfountain) Ransom (Argentines) Lia (Muirwood) – despite having tons of kids, Wheeler just does not do kids well. They end up with incredible character arcs while the initial presentation simply never hits home – so – my advice is give Bingmei time if she doesn’t ring true at first.
That said – Bingmei is introduced as a young girl who is motivated by revenge after the murder of her grandfather and devastation of her family’s quonsoon. She is presented as a bit of a blank slate, then grows and learns quickly as she has a bit of a destiny attached to her and is thrown into a role of sacrifice vs savior, with huge decisions that no one ever wants to make. Her growth and character arc is one of the high points of the series
The other members of the group (I don’t remember individuals) all had unique personalities, struggles, and abilities too. I enjoyed the banter and how many fierce women there were, including the leader of the fighting school! There is a male counterpart who becomes Bingmei’s travelling companion (and friend – my favorite, a friend and supporter without a romantic interest)!
I can’t talk much about the romance because it comes with a different character in later books, but, there is one dashingly tragic rebel Prince who was total book boyfriend material.
Random things: another big check for the clean, more wholesome content I come to expect from Wheeler. Issues – the fight scenes got a little repetitive by the end, I was joking singing “Wheeler goes kung-fu fighting”! Bingmei also has an innate ability using smells that is cool, but doesn’t seem to fit with anyone else’s magic or abilities so it threw me off. The length and pace dragged a bit although ultimately paid off, resulting in this being my least favorite Wheeler book to date. It wasn’t bad by any means but I do not recommend starting his books with this series!
For fans of found family, crews, discovery, atmosphere, tragedy, magic, new worlds, legends, strong women and more – definitely check out The Grave Kingdom trilogy!