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SPFBO 9 Official Review

The Last Fang of God

by Ryan Kirk


When gods refuse to die, it’s humans that suffer.

Safely hidden deep within the endless fields of his late wife’s people, Kalen’s only dream is to live the rest of his days in peace. He paid for his dream in blood, but neither his sword nor service are demanded any longer.

Chaos erupts when his daughter, Sascha, is called by Kalen’s old master. Father and daughter have no choice but to leave the home they’ve created for the land of Kalen’s birth.

But the sins of the past cast long shadows. After years of a tenuous peace, gods and humans alike resume their quest for dominance. Kalen and Sascha find themselves in the midst of a struggle that will reshape the boundaries of their world.

The warrior who wants nothing but peace will be forced to draw his sword once again.

Will it be enough to protect his daughter from the whims of the gods?

Shaggy Shepherd:

The Last Fang of God by Ryan Kirk caught my eye pretty early on so I was glad that SPFBO pushed this to the top of my TBR. It was a pretty quick read, which came with both pros and cons, and I was surprised by the ending.

While I liked the setup of this story, it suffered from the same thing that bothered me several times throughout the book: It lacked depth in the emotions that make me feel fully invested in characters and their adventure. I felt similarly about the world building as well. This combination plus what seemed to be inconsistencies that could’ve been cleared up with more explanations felt reminiscent of book reports that focus on a quick recap rather than the intricate details of a story that I personally enjoy.

A big pro for this book was the readability though. Despite my criticism above, I found this to be a really smooth read that went by rather quickly. If you’re not a fan of complicated prose, then this book could be your type because it lends itself for a relaxing read where you don’t have to analyze everything. It also somehow kept me very intrigued all the way through despite my reservations.

This was a standalone but for much of the story felt like it was more of a setup for a much larger story so I was feeling a little apprehensive about how it would be wrapped up. The closer to the ending I got, the more nervous I was about being disappointed. Thankfully, the ending worked really well for me in a way that was super unexpected and satisfying. So a big kudos to the author there.

So you see, it left me with quite the mixed feelings. Some of my personal priorities in reading weren’t really met but other parts were really well done. This could technically be the setup for much more if the author ever wants to pick it up again and expand but I personally feel the story itself works well on its own.

 John Mauro:

 “I haven’t told you because, as far as I know, I’m the last true-blooded Wolf of Vilkas.”

The Last Fang of God, the SPFBO9 finalist by Ryan Kirk, begins with a well-worn fantasy trope: a hero with a hidden past seeks only to live a peaceful life in the country. But Ryan Kirk elevates this trope to great emotional heights as he builds the story around a widower, Kalen, and his sixteen-year-old daughter, Sascha.

As the novel opens, the past comes back to haunt Kalen when he discovers the life being drained from his beloved daughter: 

“He gently pulled apart her eyelids. Her dark brown eyes weren’t dilated, but the light that animated them was gone.”

Kalen must confront his buried past and escape with Sascha to save her life. But Sascha has a fierce independent streak with other ideas of how she would like to live her life.

The loving but fraught relationship between Kalen and Sascha forms the heart of The Last Fang of God. Both characters are beautifully characterized, especially as they learn more about each other:

“It forced him to consider Sascha in a new light. Mostly, he’d not tried to teach her Vilka’s runes because he was prepared for the secrets of the old wolf to die with him. But a small part of his reason was a doubt she had the patience and will necessary to make anything of his teachings. It was dangerous to dabble with the power of runes…”

Sascha is still scarred by the loss of her mother and struggles with resentment toward her father:

“She hated that sword, more than she’d hated the sickness that had taken Mom’s life too soon. It was a monster that had no place in this world, and Dad was a monster for wielding it.”

Ryan Kirk also packs a fair amount of worldbuilding in this slim novel, including rune magic and gods who walk amongst humans. Still, I wish The Last Fang of God had been expanded so that we could learn more about the world and its lore.

The Last Fang of God is a touching read, especially with respect to the father-daughter relationship at its core. But this short novel also left me wanting more from its story and worldbuilding.

Whitney Reinhart:

It’s funny the elements which appeal to and which disenchant different reviewers. John enjoyed the relationship between Kalen and Sascha, while I did not. For me, their relationship is the weak spot in The Last Fang of God. Kalen’s reasons for hiding away the relics of a violent life in order to forge a new life of peace are crystal clear from the outset. He wants nothing more than to protect the future from the sins of the past. Most of all, he wants to shield his daughter from harm and will stop at nothing to ensure her safety and well-being. 

He believed he had put the past behind him, but it was more like he had shoved it into a small closet.” 

When old lies and enemies come knocking (as they are wont to do), Sascha discovers the secrets underneath the quiet, mild-mannered father she’d known. It is understandable that she would feel betrayed. Initially. However…and this is a big however for me…petulant, chosen-one teenagers are exhausting and make me tired as a reader. Sascha doesn’t hesitate to hold Kalen’s past against him, regardless of his motives. Even the best parents in the cosmos can be monstrous at times. Sascha is blind to this fact and refuses to consider any version of her father’s life – other than the self-serving, pitiful victims narrative she’s constructed in her head. In my opinion, Sascha is the weak link in this narrative. That said, if Kirk’s intention was to make his readers angry because they couldn’t reach into the story and thump her on the head, then he succeeded.

I thoroughly enjoyed the magic system, character motives, side-stories, and worldbuilding. Kirk has a talent for beautiful, effective imagery such as, “in the battle between her head and the gnarled oak tree, her skull lost” and “Oaks and pines grew shoulder to shoulder, their branches intertwined like lover’s arms.

In the end, Sascha may have grown into and earned the power she was destined to wield but she doesn’t mature much along the way. I wanted much more of Kalen’s story but not so much of Sascha’s. 

Team Score: John 6.5, Whitney 7.5, Shaggy 6.3 Final Score: 7

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