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What is The Ebon Mask?

Once he lived a life of valor and principle—a life that ended in betrayal and defeat.

James Graham, Marquess of Montrose, in life the embittered, martyred Cavalier, walks a different path in the Underworld. Embracing deceit and unbridled ambition as fervently as he once served God and England, Montrose has clawed his way up the Hierarchy to become a cynical lieutenant of the Deathlords of Stygia. Today, he’s no one’s idea of a hero—and a hero is what the Shadowlands needs.

Because something truly evil is stirring. Something cunning and malign that threatens the living and dead alike. And Montrose is the only being with a prayer of stopping it.

The Ebon Mask is the first volume in the shadowy, suspenseful Dark Kingdoms trilogy, based on the popular role-playing game Wraith: The Oblivion.

Review

THE EBON MASK by Richard Lee Byers is a novel set in the WRAITH: THE OBLIVION gameline. I was never a fan of Wraith while it was being printed but am reasonably familiar with the world. You play as one of the truly dead, a spirit who has found themselves in the Underworld, and must figure out how to deal with the complicated relationship between this world (called the Skinlands) and the politics of the great beyond.

The Ebon Mask, book one of the Dark Kingdoms Trilogy, is divided between living and dead protagonists. On one hand, there is James Graham AKA the Maquis of Montrose, who is a former Protestant rebel against King Charles I. Now a servant of the Smiing Lord, he spends his days hunting down and attempting to destroy Heretics. He long ago sold his soul because he doesn’t believe there’s anything worth pursuing with his soul other than power. Montrose also still pines for the woman who betrayed him to death in life, Louise, who has discovered religion postmortem and become a priestess of the Norse Gods.

On the living side of things, Frank Bellamy is an FBI agent that is investigating a series of brutal murders of clergymen throughout the American South. “The Atheist” serial killer is obviously something supernatural but Bellamy doesn’t know anything about such things. So much so that when he finally does find out something weird, he is warned off by both his psychologist as well as a mysterious branch of the FBI called the Special Affairs Division.

I really liked the characters in this book with both leads being strong enough that they could have handled the role of lead by themselves. Of the two, I think I prefer Frank a lot more than Montrose. Montrose is deliberately despicable and someone who is the worst sort of Heirachy slaver. He’s worse than an overt sadist because he genuinely believes all of the atrocities he’s doing are justified because the Hierarchy doesn’t offer what he views as a false sense of salvation.

Frank, by contrast, is the classic archetype of a cop who has a case he’s been put off and does his best to solve it anyway. He ends up in New Orleans, the perfect city for an occult investigation and meets a colorful cast of characters each attracted to the supernatural for their own reasons. There’s members of the Arcanum, hippie New Age girls, and the leader of a gay night club who aspires to Awakening. All of them provide new and interesting twists to the puzzle that is who wants to cover up these murders and why.

If you’re not familiar with Wraith: The Oblivion, probable since it was the lowest selling of the World of Darkness gamelines, you should still be able to enjoy the setting as well as its characters. The universal themes of death and afterlife are ones that resonate through the pages. This is only book one of a trilogy and ends on a cliffhanger but I think it is definitely worth continuing after finishing. Richard Lee Byers is a fantastic author and this is a book trilogy that I think really “gets” the World of Darkness without going grimdark.

Available here

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