Today I am reviewing one of my most anticipated reads for the end of this year. The Thirteenth Hour by Trudie Skies is the first book in The Cruel Gods series, and is out in the wild TODAY! I have had the pleasure of helping to host the Map Reveal for this book, as well as having Trudie Skies on the blog for the first Tavern Chat, and my anticipation for this book was sky high – and I LOVED IT.
Cruel gods rule the steam-powered city of Chime, demanding worship and tribute from their mortal subjects. Kayl lost her faith in them long ago, and now seeks to protect vulnerable and downtrodden mortals from their gods’ whims. But when Kayl discovers powers that she didn’t know she had—and destroys a mortal’s soul by accident—she becomes Chime’s most wanted.
Quen’s job was to pursue sinners, until the visions started. Haunted by foreboding images of his beloved city’s destruction, Quen hunts soul-sucking creatures made of aether who prey on its citizens—and Kayl is his number one target.
To ensure Chime’s future, Kayl and Quen must discover the truth of Kayl’s divine abilities before the gods take matters into their own hands.
For a city that bows to cruel gods, it’ll take godless heathens to save it.
“Chime needs godless heathens.
May the gods leave you to your fate.”
Gaslamp fantasy? Multiple Gods and Domains? I have been so excited for The Thirteenth Hour from the moment I heard about it, and the snippets and artwork have only fed that excitement, and don’t get me started on the Domain Map (It’s freaking beautiful is what it is!!), and this book did not disappoint!!
What a fantastic book!
I have to start by saying that The Thirteenth Hour is a stunning book inside and out. The cover is beautiful – and even if I hadn’t known about the book beforehand, it would have certainly had me grabbing it. The Domain map, as you might have already guessed is one of my favourite features. It’s not your typical map, but it is perfect for this book – and I don’t think that I will ever get tired of looking at it. I also loved all the little details throughout the book, from the pictorial scene breaks, to the different font at the start of each chapter. There’s just so much care and obvious love that has been poured into this book, and it adds to the feel and atmosphere of The Thirteenth Hour in such a fabulous way.
The world-building is absolutely my favourite thing about this book. There is a lot happening in this book, with all the different domains and their unique Gods, peoples and cultures, and then the cultural melting pot that is the city of Chime where all of that comes together. It could have been overwhelming. However, Skies does a fantastic job of balancing all those different elements, and the imagery for the different peoples is so vivid that it is easy to differentiate between them whether in terms of their appearance or the powers granted by their domain. It is also a rolling introduction and one that takes it time to establish this world in all its glorious details, and the information was provided in a timely manner where it was relevant so that there was plenty of timeto get used to a certain aspect before we were introduced to another. This made for a slightly slower start to the book, but by the gods, it was worth it (and by the time the pace really picks up you know where you are in the world), and honestly, I could have spent an entire book just exploring the wonders of this world (and even better is knowing that there is still so much more to explore in future books).
I also loved the little pieces of information that we got at the top of each chapter – which is one of my favourite ways of having glimpses into the history or culture of a book, and it just works so well here. There is also a fantastic introduction to the covenant, and the ‘unforgivable sins’ at the beginning of the book, which is not only key information, but does an excellent job of being both intriguing and setting the tone for the book.
Chime itself is an absolutely fantastic setting and was an excellent choice for kicking off The Cruel Gods series because it was that crossroads and meeting point of all the domains. Knowing that this was a city where gods cannot tread conjures certain images and expectations, and some of them were correct, but Skies has taken this concept and made it into something that is wonderfully complex and compelling. The Gods might not be able to tread there, but their influence is everywhere – from the devout and pious, to the sinners, to those who want to be free of the gods entirely. This is then built into the social structure and hierarchy of Chime, and Skies using that explore so many interesting topics – from workhouses and all that entails, to the question of free will, and the concept of faith and how far an individual could take that belief, as well exploring sin. This is a book that makes you think, that makes you ask questions, and I had so much fun with that aspect, and it all works so well because Chime is such a well-written, multi-layered city that allows for that exploration and because it is paired with a gripping plot and fantastic characters.
The Thirteenth Hour is written in the first person, alternating between Kayl and Quen our main characters. I love both of them, although I think Kayl stole my heart. She wasn’t a classic badass (although she certainly has her moments), but she had a wonderfully sharp wit and a strong sense of who and what she believed in, and what that meant for her and those around her. She was also a disaster. I felt her so much with forgetting names, or not noticing details and having it pointed out to her, and it just made her so wonderfully human and realistic.
“If I was a pious woman, I’d be praying. But I was a Godless woman, and the gods left me to dictate my own fate.”
That isn’t to say that I didn’t love Quen, who has to be one of the most endearing, dorky characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. You end up just sort of wanting to wrap in a blanket and hide him away from the world – and especially away from Elijah – but, also there were so many times when I wanted to shake him or give him a good kick in the shin. His obsession with tea and the quality of it is also so traditionally British that I couldn’t help but smile each time he was faced with coffee, or bad tea. He was a wonderful character, with a strong sense of purpose and duty, even as he warred with himself, his ‘sin’ and his past.
“Partners with some caveats.”
Both are so wonderfully written, and it is so easy to tell their POV apart because their character voices are so distinct and well-realised, and I loved reading the two of them together. In many ways, they couldn’t have been further apart, or at least that’s how it seems for a long time, and yet they are still drawn together – as much by those differences as by the common goals. The Thirteenth Hour is very much a journey of self-discovery for both of them, albeit in different ways – Kayl to find out who and what she really is, while holding on to who she is now, and Quen to find himself in the web he had woven around himself.
The wonderful characters don’t end with them though. The Godless in particular were my favourite characters in this book, and I liked that time was taken to explore why they had come to stand against their Gods, it felt like pulling back the curtain on the world and again added little details to the world. There was also very much the found family feel with this group, and the loyalty and love were beautiful to behold, just as the worry and fear and loss was vividly palpable. Vincent and Sindar were probably my favourites if I was forced to choose, just their relationship, and their histories endeared them to me. I also adore Reve, although we spent less time with him, but there was just something about how Skies brought him to life that had me wanting to join Dru and take care of him.
This care with the characterisation is also evident with the antagonists. I hesitate to say villains, because while there are undoubtedly reprehensible characters in this book – those that seek to exploit other mortals, who abuse what power they have. However, it was never that simple. Some were so tightly bound by their Gods, that arguably they had no choice – again returning to that debate about free will, or that it was so ingrained in their very being that they couldn’t defy. There were others who were acting on a direct order or goal from the god or trying on their own to save as many as they could. Are they good? Probably not, but it could also be said that our main characters were not ‘good’ and not just within the concept of ‘sin’ in Chime, but because of the impact of their choices. But, nor would I say they were evil – even those who wanted chaos and to tear the world down had motivations. It makes for fantastic reading, and the character work throughout the book was top-notch. (I will say I might make an exception for Elijah just because I really want to kick him – HARD).
“I see her there. I see where her path leads. The clock of fate is ticking for her.” His dark eyes turned to me. “Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.”
There were twists and turns – betrayals and surprising alliances – and as soon as I thought I knew what was happening, we would learn something new, or hit a wall and it made for a gripping read. There was almost a heist-like atmosphere to this book, and in a way, there are multiple heists – and things go wrong, sometimes a little more disastrously than others, and honestly I was on the edge of my seat at point (…and broken-hearted at others). The characters and worldbuilding really stole the show, but the plot was great and as the pace builds and builds, and the stakes grew I couldn’t look away because I needed to know what was going to happen. This is also paired with a really enjoyable prose style, that is charming in its own way – and I loved the Britishness that slipped through – but it makes not only for a fun read all around, but it just makes all the different aspects shine even brighter (and it doesn’t even need a Glimmer to help).
The Thirteenth Hour was a fantastic read with layers within layers, wrapped up in chaos and fun, and oh so many emotions and there are a couple of moments at least that I won’t be over for a while. An absolutely fantastic start to a new series that I will be following closely, and a book I can’t recommend highly enough. So, grab a warm beverage of your choice (although Quen will be displeased if it’s not tea), a good biscuit or two and curl up with this book, you won’t regret it!
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.