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Review: Tether by Daniel Durick

Because we don’t know or understand the thread that connects these people and events, doesn’t mean the thread isn’t real.

History is marked by seemingly impossible coincidences. Natural phenomena repeating itself in freakish conjunctions. People bound to similar paths; their destiny reprised. If one were to believe in the occult, this mystery of the universe opens an opportunity for a powerful someone to manipulate these threads, to bastardize fate. Daniel Durick explores this possibility in his debut novel, Tether.

Tether Tether is not slasher or body horror. It is not a book where disfigured bodies are found throughout its chapters. Tether is a slow burn of metaphorical and psychological horror. Daniel Durick masterfully crafts an unrelenting sense of apprehension. His novel is atmospheric, not necessarily in the scenery, but within the characters’ thoughts.

Tether is told mainly from the perspective of Kristin Fuller. A natural leader, she is a rising star at her equity firm where she works 60-70 hours a week. As the supernatural manifests and targets her, her inability to control the situation exacerbates her mental state. While her A type personality enhances the tension within the novel, her heightened sense of empathy is the best aspect of her character.

Kristin’s insight into her friends and family is a delight. Daniel Durick doesn’t info dump a character’s personality. While the reader is given direct perspectives from characters such as Emil and Shelly, Daniel uses Kristin to bring them to life. Shelly has her own family. Emil has his own character arc. Thanks to Kristin’s assessment, readers understand them even before their direct point of view sections. These characters exist more than to simply further the plot or support Kristin.

Daniel Durick may have used his other characters too much near the end. In the last quarter of Tether, other characters became more in the forefront. This change disservices Kristin’s arc. Her resolution rushed; Kristin felt a bit removed from her own ending.

Daniel Durick’s excels in depicting sorrow in the wake of tragedy. The pain after losing a loved one is dangerous. Long after the initial shock, the uncertainty of how to move on, guilt, and memories turned rotten can destroy a person. These aching moments where his characters simply endure offer the best of Daniel’s writing. These are the scenes that will haunt a reader long after the last page.

Tether by Daniel Durick examines the bonds between people and that of the universe. It touches on the fragility of life. It argues that nothing ever truly dies. How loose ends simply need tied to another.  Life can be repeated.

Read Tether by Daniel Durick

The Way of Unity 

by Sarah K. Balstrup

The Seven Lands of Velspar put their faith in the Intercessors, a psychic priesthood responsible for the purification of the spirit. Where passion flares, they soothe its intent. Those who cannot be soothed, are cast out, their spirits destroyed by fire.

The Intercessors are mystics of the highest order, but Velspar’s ruling Skalens believe their power has grown too great.

Surviving the Intercessor’s murder plot against her family, Sybilla Ladain rises to power. The Skalens come together under the banner of her grief, bringing the practice of Intercession to its brutal, bloody end.

Yet victory brings Sybilla no peace. In time, she will have to face the people of Velspar, forced to live in a psychically alienated world, and a band of rebels led by an escaped Intercessor set on her annihilation.

SPFBO8 – Our Reviews

John Mauro

“She would not do it again. She swore it. They would have no more of her blood.”

 Religion and politics collide in The Way of Unity, the debut dark fantasy from Sarah K. Balstrup.

A psychic priesthood known as the Intercessors oversees blood rites and spiritual purity in the Seven Lands of Velspar. The Intercessor priests can probe individual minds, leveling harsh punishment against those with sinful “red” thoughts. The unchallenged religious authority of the Intercessors leads to their heightened political influence, which puts them on a collision course with the elite Skalen families who rule Velspar.

The Way of Unity is built around a central event known as the Fire, a fateful attack by the Intercessors that leaves Skalen Sybilla of Vaelnyr as its sole survivor. Sybilla rises to power in the painful aftermath of the Fire, intent on religious reform and pursuing justice against the Intercessors. However, a rogue Intercessor is bent on Sybilla’s own destruction.

The Way of Unity is told from multiple points of view, but Sybilla steals the show as the most compelling and well-developed character in the book. She is emotionally complex and may be either lionized as Velspar’s great reformer or vilified as its worst heretic.

Sarah K. Balstrup excels in her nuanced worldbuilding. Of particular note is the Meridian, a magical headband that prevents intrusion into one’s thoughts and also hampers the wearer’s psychic vision and sensory perception. The Meridian is also used as a symbol of personal autonomy.

Balstrup’s prose is beautiful and well-polished, conveying a sense of gloomy mysticism throughout the story. Although The Way of Unity emphasizes religion as its main theme, there is also a touch of romance, which is tastefully done and helps in the development of Sybilla as a character.

On the downside, The Way of Unity is marred by overly stiff dialogue, which prevents many of the other characters from developing their own individual personalities. Unfortunately, this also compromises the ability of the reader to establish strong emotional connections with these other characters.

The story also suffers from disjointed flow, with sudden jumps in time between chapters that make the plot confusing to follow in places. Overall, The Way of Unity would benefit by devoting more time to exposition and building smoother transitions between chapters.

Sarah K. Balstrup shows great promise with The Way of Unity, a melancholic tale that explores the darker side of organized religion and its impact on the individual psyche. The series will continue with Balstrup’s second book, A Trail of Stars.

SPFBO Score: 7.0 out of possible 10.

P.L. Stuart

I have provided an honest review of this book below for purposes of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) Number 9 competition in which this book is entered, and assigned to Before We Go Blog for judging.

For my first read as an SPFBO 9 Judge, I selected The Way of Unity, by Sarah Balstrup. In the novel, Balstrup transports us to the Seven Lands of Velspar, where all sides of a revolution against the religious overseers in power suffer dire consequences.

In a clash of church and state, the ruling elites of the Seven Lands – known as Skalen – tire of the pervasive influence of the Intercessors. The Intercessors are a fervent and powerful clergy of mystics who worship the gods as manifested through sacred creatures, Siatka and Kahidol. The Intercessors also demand religious purity and secure the faithful’s adherence to dogma in blood rites. Additionally, those succumbing to sinful – “red” – thoughts can be summarily executed by the Intercessors.

Which, of course, many find abhorrent. While some ardently believe this is a necessary part of worship, and preserving faith to one’s gods.

Some among the Skalen believe the Intercessors are heretics who have perverted the original rectitude of the faith of Velspar. Of course, the Intercessors would find any such thoughts to be heresy. Not good for the supposed heretics, because the Intercessors have a penchant to purge apostates via flames.

“Because he had the courage to resist their advances, they silenced him with fire..”

But the Skalens are no pushovers, and with their authority in jeopardy from the Intercessors, they are determined to strike back. Hard.

Yet there will be catastrophic losses on all sides of the conflict between the Intercessors and the Skalen, including internal conflict among the Skalen themselves, divided between rising up against the Intercessors, or maintaining the status quo. The author, through the use of POVs on opposing sides, shows us just how wonderful and how terrible people can be when they are armed with self-righteousness, and a cause that can inflame them to act upon their ideals, no matter the cost to the other side.

Revolving around an inciting event, with looks both forward and in retrospect, this book is a marvellous effort to use deeply flawed characters whose actions appear “good” to their followers and supporters, while appearing horrible to their enemies .It may become hard to root for any of the characters (while I don’t require that in my books, many readers do), but one will fully understand their motivations and fret over the consequences to the greater land, and future generations.

Perhaps no character in the book exemplifies this more than the troubled Sybilla. Sybilla is the initial POV we are greeted with, and her father is the driving force behind the rebellion against the Intercessors.

A young girl at the start of the novel, she seems like a good person, noble, just, caring. But after tragic circumstances propel Sybilla to be one of the primary revolutionists, and she needs allies amongst the other Skalen families to achieve her goals, we see just how vengeful and ruthless Sybilla can be, and one might start to question if any new regime promises to be just as problematic – or even worse – than the old regime.

Later, the perspectives of Zohar and Ambrose, who are on another side of the conflict, as family of Skalens who did not support the rebellion against the intercessors, are presented. When Sybilla is examined from the lens of other characters such as these, her actions appear to be much more sinister and reprehensible. Then when we swing back to Sybilla, so much of what she does seems reasonable, even “just”.

It takes real aplomb to craft complicated, unlikable characters that are compelling, and Balstrup excels in this regard. You may not care about the characters much, but you will be fascinated by what they do, and how the results of what they do turn out.

The main characters age and evolve, and the author does a wonderful job with their evolution, as the religious conflict changes them, for better and for worse. There is some awesome character work here.

That said, there are times when the reader may feel somewhat emotionally distant from the characters, because of the style of narrative, despite the characters being so believable and well-fleshed out. It seems to be a choice by the author; a deliberate, impersonal touch, that manifests in the multiple, detached, third-person POVs.

The worldbuilding is wonderful in the novel. Centered around religion, tradition, varying, fascinating customs between the noble houses, and of course the Intercessors and their domination of public life, it is easy to become immersed in this world. There are diverting charts and images at the beginning of the novel to help explain aspects of the magic, the religion, and the noble houses which I thought lent a great air of authenticity to the world-building.

While, if you seek dragons, elves, and more traditional creatures and monsters, look elsewhere, I truly enjoyed the realistic, gritty world that Balstrup crafted. The religious and magic system are both centered around the use of the meridian, which was really interesting. These meridians, essentially a band worn on the forehead, carries stones that emotionally distance the wearer, blunting emotional extremity and perception, preventing invasion of thought, and protecting one from hostile magic and manipulation.

The complexity and relevance of the themes explored in The Way of Unity, and the way these themes are handled, are indicative of a brilliant writer who knows how to draw strong emotional reactions out of their readers, and leave the reader with plenty of things to ponder long after they’ve turned the last page.

Psychosis, mysticism, revenge, trauma, torture, murder, religious intolerance, bigotry and oppression, fanaticism, revolution, and more, are themes tackled in the novel. In The Way of Unity, the players are caught between two very extreme ideals of devotion to one’s religion.

The author poses a myriad of thought-provoking questions to which there are not many clear or easy answers.

What constitutes “true” faith? How does one know who and what one is worshiping is “the right faith”? Is something “wrong” just because it seems harsh or barbaric to the eyes of another? Could there be a lack of true enlightenment and understanding of what the gods require from their feal subjects?

Is individuality and autonomy more important than being devout? Who is “right”, who “wins”, and will anyone – any of the characters – believe in anything anymore when all they believe in is cast into doubt? And will vengeance, retribution, and lust for power ruin the endeavour to “set things right”?

This novel is about the malevolent side of religion and faith, which invariably becomes about the people who believe or don’t believe, and what they do to others who don’t feel the same, rather than any purity of a divinity.

While a god may or may not be pure, humans are subject to corruption and flawed logic when it comes to their worship. When persecution becomes the end result of divergence of opinion over religion, is it justified? Who, then, becomes the “infidel”?

Religions run deep into our psyche, and martyrs can inspire further revolution and upheaval, creating a cycle of continuous instability. When one version of the faith is cast down, another rises in its place, but often a faction wants the old faith back.

The author chooses the irony of calling the novel The Way of Unity, because there is little harmonious about what happens in the book, as religion and politics butt up against one another, with bloody results.

There are plenty of political machinations, back-stabbing, back-room dealing, and even a well done romantic element to the book. Therefore, plenty to keep the reader engaged, in the absence of larger scale battle sequences. Nonetheless, there are scenes of extreme violence, and they are blistering. There are some absolutely heart-rending scenes.

Prose is typically the one factor in a book that will sway me decidedly one way or another when I try to evaluate a book. In the case of this novel, the prose was scrumptious, and some of the best I’ve read in my time thus far as an SPFBO judge. Poetic, lugubrious, haunting, contemplative, the author’s way with words resonated deeply with me.

Other than some of the choices with respect to dialogue not living up, perhaps, to the marvellous exposition, and the narrative feeling a bit detached sometimes, as I noted above, this book was fabulous.

This dark, traumatic, intriguing, hypnotic, and poignant book, set in a harsh world, is truly a unique and bold work, that does not feel derivative of anything else I’ve read recently.

The best single word I can use to describe this book is “different” and I mean that as high praise.

SPFBO Score: 8 out of possible 10.

TOTAL TEAM AVERAGE – 7.5 OUT OF 10

TOTAL TEAM AVERAGE – 7.5 OUT OF 10

TOTAL TEAM AVERAGE – 7.5 OUT OF 10

TOTAL TEAM AVERAGE – 7.5 OUT OF 10

TOTAL TEAM AVERAGE – 7.5 OUT OF 10

TOTAL TEAM AVERAGE – 7.5 OUT OF 10

TOTAL TEAM AVERAGE – 7.5 OUT OF 10

TOTAL TEAM AVERAGE – 7.5 OUT OF 10

“The mind is bad at holding on to terror”

Seanan McGuire has rare ability to delve into deep subjects, in this case loss without drowning the reader in sorrow.  This ability is what makes Wayward Children such a beautiful and compelling series. In this instance, the newest Wayward story, Lost in the Moment and Found, is a story about loss in all of its iterations.

Antoinette, or Antsy as she is refereed starts the story through here memory as a child of her father dying right in front of her, at Target of all places. The pain she feels at the loss of her beloved father colors her interactions through the rest of the story. And, while the pain of loss dulls with time and experience, the wound never really leaves you. Antsy is wounded, and dealing with trauma. Her mother, flawed as she is trying to make her way through the grief of the loss of her husband. And in that grief, she find love with a new man. Although Ansty doesn’t trust the man, a child’s intuition, she tries to be civil with him. But, there is a reason why loss is discussed in many forms and Antsy ends up physically lost hiding in the doorstop of a shop with big words above the door:

“Be Sure”

Antsy decides that she is, pushes through and finds out where lost things go. We start a journey into grief, healing, and loss. While Antsy is lost in so many ways, McGuire never for one moment allows the audience to become lost. We are at rapt attention page by page. If you haven’t started this series, you aught to. This is one of the best series being written today, book after book. And I am sure that you will enjoy it as much as I did. if you decide to make the leap, and purchase the slim first book of the series, pause for a moment. Take a deep breath and be sure because you are about to go on an adventure.

Read Our Other Wayward Reviews

Review – Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire

REVIEW – Where the Drowned Girls Go by Seanan McGuire

Review – Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire

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