Blog Tour (Book Review): Wisdom Lost (Pandemonium Rising #2) – Michael Sliter

Hello!

Belatedly (due to writing the wrong date in my diary) I am delighted to be joining the Escapist Tours blog tour for Wisdom Lost by Michael Sliter, with a review for both this book and book one Solace Lost. This is a series I had been meaning to pick up for a while, so I am glad to have had the chance to get into it.

Please do check out the other stops on the tour!

Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.

Book Summary:

During times of war, no one goes unscathed. By Ultner, even in times of peace, few can escape suffering. Ardia is on the brink of civil war, though most citizens are woefully unaware of this fact.

Fenrir de Trenton, a disgraced guardsman-turned-ineffective-criminal, is accustomed to taking orders. So much so that, despite the danger, he finds himself neck-deep in the politicking of his current superiors as well as the rulers of the country. The fact that Fenrir’s father would rather see him dead doesn’t help matters.

Emma Dram, a handmaiden of the great Lady Escamilla, hates Fenrir with a fiery passion and with good reason: he lopped off most of her hand. Nonetheless, she finds herself in close proximity to her former lover as she seeks to serve her lady liege in fomenting her own rebellion.

Hafgan Iwan is a Wasmer, a race reviled by humans, who serves the same masters as Fenrir. His efforts to assimilate with human culture only earn him the derision of his own race, and he seeks to find belonging amidst the escalating conflict.

Meanwhile, Merigold Hinter, a serving girl with an unusual power, lives a simple existence, hoping for love, adventure, and to see the world. Her life should be untouched by political maneuvering and war. However, her world becomes a crucible—how much can one woman bear before breaking?

A story of love lost and family destroyed, of bigotry and belonging, of suffering and strength, and of religion and magic, SOLACE LOST grows from a character-driven tale to something grand in scale, perhaps even involving the gods, themselves.

Book Summary:

Ardia is fractured, torn apart by civil war initiated by deceit. Florens has fallen, and the rebel army of Lady Escamilla has been scattered by the Feral. Little stands in the way of the Rostanians and their ruthless rulers seizing the entire country. Amidst this rising conflict, four people seek to stem this tide. Or, to simply survive.

Fenrir, also called the Bull, Coldbreaker, Dukeslayer, and sometimes bastard, has the worst kind of luck. Instead of being dead, pierced by a dozen swords, he finds himself under the control of the most horrible person he knows: his father. And an unwelcome family reunion is made more unpleasant as clandestine and legitimate powers vie for the rule of Rostane.

Meanwhile, Hafgan Iwan breaks an oath to himself—that he would never return home. The hallowed Wasmer city of Hackeneth is not welcoming, particularly as a new god has usurped the old ways. Hafgan is torn between the world he once knew and the one he has created for himself.

Leading the exhausted and haphazard remnants of a rebel army, Lady Emma Breen seeks allies across the border, in the crumbling city of Farrow’s Hold. But when faith clashes with politics, can a faithless former handmaiden hold them all together?

And Merigold Hinter travels across oceans to the fabled Agricorinor with a wish and a warning. The wish? That she may understand her powers and take revenge. The warning? The Feral are coming, and they will tear out the throat of the world.

The Review:

“We are all born with the capacity for good and evil, Harmony and Pandemonium. However, the course of a person’s life is not set at birth. No one is born a rapist or a murderer. Or a saint, for that matter. The experiences in their lives—their family, their friends, the events experienced as a child—all feed either this internal Harmony or Pandemonium.’

Pandemonium Rising  was a series that had been on my radar for a while, admittedly because of the covers catching my eye, and I was glad to have the opportunity to dive into the series (and will be continuing). Somehow though I hadn’t twigged that it was grimdark until I started reading, which is fine as that is a subgenre that I love but it unabashedly tackles some incredibly dark themes, so if that is not your cup of tea, then Solace Lost may not be the book for you. Sliter does not hold his punches in this book, and Solace Lost is truly dark to its core.

   Sometimes, you can look at a book title and wonder how it pertains to the story in the pages. Not so with Solace Lost, in fact I don’t think it could have had a more apt title, as this is a tale of a world and characters faced with brutality on an edge of desperation regardless of what side of the world they originally fell, and where hope and faith is stripped away, bloody strip by bloody strip. Is that to say it is truly hopeless? There were a few minutes where it felt that it might be, this was a story of war and blood and gore, and everything that comes from the worst that people can do to one another and to themselves. Yet, beneath that, at the very heart of this book were characters searching for strength and belief when the whole world is set against them, where they sought to find themselves despite overwhelming odds. Is that hope? Maybe not, but it is the possibility of hope – a candle flame flickering against the looming storm, and it’s a struggle that resonates. We may not have faced the same horrors (and I truly hope not), but many of us will have had that moment where the world and everything in it feels set against us, and trying to find that kernel of hope and reason to keep going – and Sliter gives us that and more in this book.

One of my favourite elements of this book stems in part from that, because this is a book that makes you think, not just because of some of the themes that it deals with – from racial issues, to humanity and it’s nature in general, to more personal elements like belief and loss and trauma. But because it is a also an exploration of the idea of nature and nurture, and how a propensity for good or evil, can be twisted and changed by the environment. It makes you wonder, how would you react in a world like this? If you were to step into any one of the characters shoes?  How far could you endure, or hold on to who you were? Where is the fracture line? It was certainly a book that left me with many thoughts beyond the storytelling.

Sliter manages to make this hit so hard, and resonate so strongly, because of one of the strongest elements of this book – the characters. Solace Lost is an incredibly character-driven story, and we get to experience the story and the world through four very distinct POVs – Fenrir Coldbreaker, Emma Dran, Hafgan Iwan and Merigold Hinter. Sliter has given us four brilliantly realised characters in this quartet, and there was never any chance of mistaking whose eyes were seeing the world from, and the author took the time to make sure that we got to know each one from personality, to interior voice, to their place in the world. This is where our resonance comes from, because we get to know them so intimately throughout the book, and it lead me to being strongly invested in their story threads, even if I didn’t necessarily love the character. Because, with the exception of Merigold, these characters largely fell in the greyscale, not good or bad, but on a varying spectrum shaped by their actions and their experiences. And once of my favourite aspects of the characterisation was how Sliter conveyed that varying spectrum, through the character’s emotions and mindsets, and even their tone (internal and external), as they pushed and pulled and wounded by events, and it made the development feel that more natural as we got to experience it as it occurred.

Merigold was probably my favourite character, but I think part of that stems from the fact that it was interesting to see a character who fell very much on the light end of the spectrum at the beginning, and how that kind of person changed under the weight of such darkness. The events that happened to her were truly harrowing, but you get to see the rolling impact that has on her. Of the other three, Hafgan was another one that stood out for me, and I really hope that we get to see more of his arc and development in the next book, as this book focused a little more on Merigold and Fenrir.

While the characters undoubtedly stole the limelight, the worldbuilding in Solace Lost was fantastic. Ardia is a world of layers, and Sliter’s writing really shines in the complexity of the land where his story is set, and in many ways the world was so rich that it felt like a character in itself. There is detailed lore, covering both history and religious foundations, and we are shown how these aspects have played forward into the current situation, and shaped the lives and stations of the various peoples in Ardia. I will say that there is a fair bit of worldbuilding information given in this book, but as it is the first in a series, the parts that seemed as though they had no immediate effect on the story will most likely come into play at a later date, especially with the care with which Sliter has built this world.

We also get a magic system that is intersected with the discussion of faith in the book, and I really hope to see more of the magic in the following books. I liked the intersection of the two, and again here we get into the meat of discussions and how Solace Lost is one of those books that demands you ‘think’, because the characters and the world are demanding answer to why bad things happen to good people? And why would a god allow such things to happen?  That it bleeds into the magical aspect, is another sign of how interconnected everything in this book is. Sliter has done a spectacular job of weaving together world and characters, and everything that feeds into them.

All of this is delivered in easy to read, but incredibly vivid prose. I said Sliter didn’t shy away from the true horrors of this world, and that shines through most strongly in the writing, because he paints such intense details of the events that it generates an incredibly visceral reaction, especially as he does it in such a way that appeals to all the senses (which may not always be a good thing). This lends itself to creating an incredibly atmospheric read, which adds to the experience, as it creeps around you from all sides. This focus on the more descriptive elements, and the close cleaving to the internal thoughts and experiences of the characters, does mean that this is a slower paced read and there were a few places where it felt like it was a little too slow. However, I enjoy this level of immersion, and Sliter does such a fantastic job of immersing us that it is a minor grumble if that.

Solace Lost was a strong start to the series, and definitely appealed to my dark fantasy loving heart – but will admittedly not be for everyone, even though the elements in question were well rationalised in how they played out in terms of plot and character development, especially for the character in question rather than the ones in the wrong. I was very glad to have the next book Wisdom Lost already loaded up on my kindle, especially with the epilogue. All in all, though, if you’re in the mood for a character-driven grimdark story, with fantastic worldbuilding, then this one is certainly one to check out.

*Content warning for blood, gore, torture and sexual assault.

The Review:

“Extortion, as it turns out, does not breed loyalty.”

“No, it never does. Fear, though, can be a powerful tool.”


Here we get to see the groundwork that Sliter laid in the first book really play dividends, as Wisdom Lost hits the ground running right after the events of the first book. Interestingly while we received a list of content warnings for this book, I think that Wisdom Lost did not venture quite so far into the harrowing fields of grimdark as the first book. It’s still dark, Ardia is still a harsh and brutal world, and the characters are constantly being pushed to the edge, with survival playing a huge role in their story – and the shades of grey are ever present, but it was a slightly gentler read, and that’s because of the work done in the first book.

Solace Lost provided the foundation for the world and the story, and the shattering of the characters. Wisdom Lost is the splintering lines caused by that shattering, and we get to see it stretch out through the threads of the characters’ stories, and how they are continuing to cope with what has happened to them and how it fuels their growth.

“I am beginning to believe that faith is little more than a way to spread values among the people.”

Wisdom Lost really is a progression from the first book in every way, and yet as with everything about this series we get to see the continuing influence and connection of what happened in the first book. Sliter has layered this series from the beginning and now we are seeing it paythrough, and everything about book two is more.

The almost philosophical considerations that were so evident in the first book, the discussions about religion and faith and magic go further in this book, and I admire how Sliter handles this aspect. It’s done respectfully, but in such a way that it feels organic to the world and the characters. And I loved that it was further built into the lore with the inclusion of interlogues with a goddess (more on this later – but this was one of my favourite parts of this book). And it felt that with that groundwork in place, we really got to dive into the politics and intrigue much further in this book, along with the racial issues; and now we already have a grasp of the world, those aspects are hitting harder, and we can see the story and world opening up alongside one another. As we and the characters get to explore more and more of the world.

Wisdom Lost maintains the character-centric focus of the series, and it felt more balanced this time around as we got to spend more time with Fenrir, Merigold, Emma and Hafgan. It also felt as though we were reuniting with old friends that we already knew inside and out, thanks to the careful work done in the first book and the intimacy of the focus on their voices and thoughts, and Sliter has homed in one what makes each character who they are to perfection, and we could follow through the threads of what each one had endured and the path they had taken so far, to who they are now. Cause and effect was evident for each character, and we get to see the playthrough of wounds that has left them with trauma and baggage, and how that plays into the present and their aims for the future. And that connectivity is essential, not just to pull us the reader into their stories, but because their paths haven’t intersected yet, but yet we are able to see how their individual threads are feeding into the overarching story and path the world is taken; and it gives a real weight to each character’s actions.

“The past cannot control you. You are more than what has happened to you. You are more than the things that you have done.”

As I said above, Wisdom Lost felt more balanced with its focus on the four main POVs, and Emma’s POV was greatly improved – it just felt like we hadn’t spent quite enough time with her in the first book. Merigold remains a firm favourite, and perhaps because of that bias it felt like her character development was that little bit stronger than the others in this one. However, it was actually Fenrir who stole the show for me in this book, I just felt like we really got to get inside his head and there was a questioning that made me want to see where his path in particular will lead.

One feature that is new to Wisdom Lost is the inclusion of interludes, or as they are called in the book Interlogues. This is always a brilliant way of building up the story, and especially the worldbuilding, and here Sliter has used them to build up and establish the background for one of the goddesses of this world -Yetra.

“You’ve undoubtedly heard the stories of my youth? As always, there is more mythos and embellishment— lies, really— than actual truth.

The interlogues here not only build up the worldbuilding, especially with the discussions surrounding religion and faith, and how through these Sliter charts Yetra’s growth from human to goddess. But, the way they are written with Yetra talking to a secondary character through dialogue alone, means that it feels as though we the reader are being personally addressed, pulling us further into the lore. It’s a wonderfully organic way of providing vital worldbuilding information.

After reading Solace Lost, I said that I wanted to see more the magic that had been introduced and that wish was more than granted. We continue to see how destructive and deadly the magic can be, but now we get a better sense for how it can be fully utilised as we see it in action from close-quarter combat to large-scale battles, and we also get to see the cost of the magic, and how the skill and precision can vary between users. I always appreciate a magic system that has a cost to its use, and that is used brilliantly here, and we can see how that cost impacts on the characters. It adds another layer to character development, through learning to use it, and learning to balance and accept the cost. Again, we see Sliter taking the foundation he had built up in the first book, and turning the dial up completely.

Sliter’s writing is still very much a highlight for me, and again it feels stronger in this book – I think especially with the interlogues showing his skill with dialogue, which was a little more lacking in the first book due to the intensely personal nature of the POVs. Here, we also get to see him stretch his action-writing muscles, from the magic and battles, to the overall feeling of forward momentum, and there were certainly no pacing issues in this book. It sweeps you along from start to finish.

Wisdom Lost was a spectacular continuation to this series, it has ironed out the slight weakness of the pacing from the first book and really found it’s own pace. Here we see Sliter honing his characterisation, expanding the cast, and really bringing the character development to the fore, while the world has continued to expand. I look forward to picking up the third book Faith Lost in the near future, and seeing what places Sliter will take us in the latter half of the series.

Michael Sliter was born in the deep wilds of Cleveland, Ohio, where he fought off at least two siblings for scraps of pizza. His bedroom, growing up, was a monument to fantasy, containing a stack of worn and well-read books, a medieval Lego civilization spanning half the room, and a very real sword circa World War II.

Though always fascinated with the written word, Michael ended up with only a minor in writing, instead majoring in Psychology (Hiram College, OH). He later went on to complete his M.S. and Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology (Bowling Green State University, OH)—overall spending a larger portion of his life than strictly necessary in school. Following, Michael was a psych professor for a time, and then moved into the real world to help organizations hire the right people.

He attempted to write some childish fantasy novels in the past, all abandoned as derivative refuse. It wasn’t until his daughter was born that Michael decided to begin writing in earnest, and he published Solace Lost, the first book in the Pandemonium Rising series. Since, Wisdom Lost (Book 2) and Valley of the Free (novella in the same world) have been published.

Today, you can find Michael back in the Cleveland area, where he lives with his wife, daughter, and two dogs. They are quite tolerant of his writing, reading, video game, and racquetball habits.

Social Media:

Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

Purchase Links – Solace Lost:

Amazon UK | Amazon US |

Purchase Links – Wisdom Lost:

Amazon UK | Amazon US |

**

If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.

Rowena

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