“Final words bloomed: We are only just beginning.”
Andrew D. Meredith combines maximalist worldbuilding with a nuanced character-driven plot in Deathless Beast, the first volume of his epic fantasy series, The Kallattian Saga.
With Deathless Beast, Meredith has created a marvelously complex world that feels Tolkienesque in its scope and detail, but without falling into the usual epic fantasy trap of copying The Lord of the Rings. Meredith looks past the use of classic Tolkien fantasy elements (elves, dwarfs, orcs, etc.) to create his own world that feels wholly original, complete with its own set of fantastical fauna, races, religions, and more. If your goal with reading fantasy is to lose yourself in a wondrous new world, then look no further than Deathless Beast.
The worldbuilding itself is introduced through Malazan-style immersion, without any handholding or info dumps in the main text. Fortunately, readers can consult several glossaries in the back of the book to help keep track of the characters and other elements of worldbuilding. The glossaries gave just the right level of detail so that I never felt lost reading the novel.
Despite the vastness and intricacy of the worldbuilding, Deathless Beast is fundamentally a character-driven story. My favorite characters are Hanen and Rallia Clouw, a brother-and-sister duo that serve as part of the Black Sentinels, a group of mercenaries for hire who have their own code of honor. Mercenary work is a family business for the Clouws, but the other Black Sentinels don’t necessarily share the same sense of loyalty.
The next point-of-view character is Jined Brazstein, a Paladin of the Hammer, a holy order of knights. Jined feels called to a deeper faith while the Paladin order itself appears to be on the decline.
The final main character is Katiam Borreau, a Paladame of the Rose, a female holy order analogous to the Paladins. Katiam serves as personal physician to both the Matriarch of her order and the Prima Pater (first father) of the Paladins. Katiam feels like her life has been decided for her, but new possibilities open when she makes an unexpected discovery.
Religion is featured prominently in Deathless Beast, including a fully developed polytheistic belief system with a complex set of religious vows. All of these details are spelled out clearly in the glossaries. However, the real focus of Deathless Beast is not on organized religion itself, but on the personal faith of its principal characters as they strive to find a deeper purpose in their lives. This personal focus makes the characters feel real and relatable.
Andrew D. Meredith’s prose has a classic feel but without the stiffness sometimes associated with epic fantasy. The plot itself is a slow burn, full of introspective dialogue. Meredith’s unhurried, contemplative writing recalls Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. But Deathless Beast also features several well-written action scenes interspersed throughout the longer, more introspective passages.
Although Deathless Beast has a few dark scenes, it is not nearly as dark as one might infer from the cover. Rather, the author has unabashedly embraced the “epic” in epic fantasy.
Dark fantasy and grimdark readers, nevertheless, will appreciate the depth of Meredith’s character development and the full range of gray morality at play amongst the Dark Sentinels and Paladins, with plenty of corruption hiding beneath the surface. My favorite scene came about 75% into the novel, when we learn the origin of the titular beast. Although much of the plot felt like setup for future volumes of the series, Deathless Beast does have a satisfying, albeit somewhat abrupt, conclusion.
At its best, Deathless Beast will restore your faith in classic epic fantasy, combining Tolkienesque worldbuilding with a Proustian level of elegance and introspection. I look forward to reading more in this world.
Review originally published at Grimdark Magazine.