Nathan’s review of Thralls of a Tyrant God by Mars G. Everson
Everson begins a new grimdark fantasy trilogy full of broken people, manipulative gods, a tyrannical government, and secrets that can reshape history. If you are a fan of dark stories, morally grey worlds, and exciting battle action sequences, you should pick this one up.
Whenever I am reading a book for review I outline what I think my review will say as a I read. I get a sense of a general star rating and what I will ultimately highlight as the positives or negatives of the reading experience. Admittedly, this book threw me for a loop and this review looks nothing what I thought it would be when I was halfway to two-thirds of the way through the book.
The first chunk of Thralls of a Tyrant God hits the gas immediately as Everson throws his readers into the thick of the action. Readers are quickly introduced to Senn, the Herald of the Lord (God) of Greed, as he leads a small army as they try to liberate people from the oppressive city of Hub. Amidst the battles and bloodshed, Everson introduces an almost dizzying amount of worldbuilding in a short amount of time. We are introduced to cities, governments, people, gods and more – all while trying to keep up with the pace of the frantic and frenetic action sequences. I was swept up in everything, and I could not look away. The violence in this book is pretty cool and the fighting scenes are expertly choreographed. The closest comp I can think of is that the action scenes in this book are the fantasy novel equivelent of the tv show Spartacus. Not always the most realistic, but really cool to experience.
Once the book settles in, and the action dips just a bit, I found myself feeling a bit disconnected from the book. I realized that amongst the intense fighting that I didn’t get a good grip on the worldbuilding. I couldn’t quite immerse myself in what Everson was building because there was just too much packaged in too tiny a container. I couldn’t get a sense of the world or places Senn was visiting. amd there were too many POV characters that didn’t feel fleshed out or developed (and some of them felt dreadfully boring because I didn’t see the point of their existence). I don’t say this often, but for I thought this book needed to be longer if it was going to try and support so much.
But then I hit the 75% mark and absolutely everything fell into place. I finally got what Everson was doing as we careened toward the climax of this first installment. Characters – their personalities, emotional stakes, arcs, and relationships – all fell into place in this beautiful way. The worldbuilding felt more streamlined as I warmed up to this horrible and barren wasteland. Everson’s use of flashbacks clicked for me, the themes became crystal clear, and a book that I once thought I might DNF became a book that I was enthralled by. I went from reading just to fulfill my review obligation to eagerly anticipating the next books (which have already been released!) and trying to find room on my TBR to squeeze them.
I know its an old trope at this point to say “The series gets good in Book 3!”, and we all roll our eyes and think, “Yeah, I’m not wasting my time with that”. I can also understand if you are reading this review and thinking, “I don’t want to wait around for a book to get good 75% of the way in”. To that I can only respond by saying this is a relatively short book and, for me, the payoff was worth the wait.
I should also highlight that not everything in the middle chunk of Thralls is bad. Senn is a fascinating central character, a man who wants to do good by the world but understands he needs to get in bed with some nasty figures to do so. He is a man with a morally dubious past (that slowly comes into focus) and isn’t sure if he can ever return to that old life. His main ally is the Lord of Greed, a despicable god with his own plans and goals, and to whom Senn only allies himself with based on need. In general, the worldbuilding and Everson’s unique take on gods was one of my favorite aspects of the book! I won’t say more here because the way Everson peels back all of the layers of the gods is one of the most fascinating parts of the book. I wish that some of the other POV characters were given the same level of depth, but their arcs come into focus as the book wraps up, and leaves a lot of room for their arcs to be elaborated upon in the rest of the trilogy.
Thralls of a Tyrant God is also a book that is big on ideas, and it might have been the way Everson explores these more “philosophical” concepts that kept me turning the pages. Everson dwells a lot on morality, governance, belief, faith, family, duty, loyalty, and more. There are some really poignant conversations and solliloquies that truly highlight the thematic depth and heft of Thralls…one that conviently comes in at about the 50% mark that gave the book some gas just as I was about to throw in the towel. The grimdark genre can sometimes feel exploitative, or have the thematic shallowness of “everyone is selfish and bad and the world sucks and nihilism is the only answer”. Everson doesn’t fall to this low hanging fruit, but rather uses a dark world to explore deeper issues of what it means to be human, what is proper governance, and what leads to “good” in the world.
(I guess since I am talking about Thralls in terms of its grimdark-ness that I should highlight that this book has: despotic governments, enslavement, blood/gore, traditional gender norms, and more. None of it ever feels gratituous, but readers looking to avoid these things should probably pick up a different book).
This is a book that initially hooked me, then played hard-to-get, and then eventually brought me in. Full stop. If you pick up this book and think “I like the ideas, but the execution leaves a bit to be desired”, KEEP READING. There is something special in Thralls of a Tyrant God, and I will definitely be looking forward to the rest of the trilogy.
Concluding Thoughts: Thralls of a Tyrant God is an exciting entry into the grimdark genre, one that features a fascinating central character battling his demons, both metaphorical and literal. The action sequences are exciting and well-written, and will keep you enthralled even as the the book loses its way a bit in its middle. Everson tries to pack in a lot of ideas related to war, loyalty, and “the good” while also making the book action-packed, which can lead to some underdeveloped characters (including several of the POV characters) and confusing worldbuilding, but everything absolutely clicks by the end. Come for the action and themes, stay for when Everson finds his groove and sets up for what are sure to be fantastic second and third books in this series. Recommended for action and grimdark fans (but please check content warnings!).