“Master Artificer” by Justin T. Call: ARC Review

“We’re going to have a talk now,” Annev said, untying the rag around his neck. “I’m going to use magic to keep you alive… and we’ll see just how good I am at this torture thing.”

Synopsis: Leaving behind the smoldering wreckage of his childhood home, Annev seeks answers in the world outside. Will he manage to take the reins of his own fate and remove the deadly Hand of Keos, or will his destiny take a darker turn?

Who May Enjoy This Book:

  • Grimdark junkies
  • Fans of Epic Fantasy
  • People who enjoy inversion of tropes

First, I would like to thank Justin T. Call, Blackstone Publishing, and Netgalley for providing me with an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) in exchange for a fair and honest review: your efforts in making titles like this accessible to reviewers makes my life so much easier!

I was excited to get my hands on this one!

Book 1 of this series was thoroughly impressive given that it was a debut (for those of you who haven’t read it, my review/impressions of “Master of Sorrows” can be found right here), and Call continues to impress with “Master Artificer”. I actually finished reading the story a few weeks back, but I wanted a little time to re-read certain portions, and to let everything sink in nicely. As you know, I try to give my reviews a little extra thought, and this can be complicated when you’re avoiding spoilers. Let’s discuss!

“Master Artificer” hits the ground running, beginning immediately after the events of “Master of Sorrows”. Our protagonist Annev and his friends must pick themselves up and leave behind the ruins of the only home they’ve ever known. Without giving anything away, there are three or four narrative points of view in this story (depending on how you look at it): first is what I call “Team Annev” (Annev, Titus, Therin, Fyn), then “Team Myjun” (Annev’s former love interest), and “Team Kenton” (Annev’s former friend). There is a deep connection between these three teams, both narratively and via a thread of prophecy which weaves its way throughout the series. This was a pleasant change from the first book, as it provides the reader with a much broader view of the world and its intricacies. One of the toughest things for me to reconcile in “Master of Sorrows” was the enormous emphasis on worldbuilding… while simultaneously spending the majority of the novel in a tiny community. It just felt wrong, and boy does this novel make up for it! “Master Artificer” kicks the doors down and opens up an enormous world for our thee disparate groups to explore and make trouble in.

Kenton’s chapters tend to focus on the character’s understanding of his life up to the present; geographically, he is more or less stationary compared to the other POV characters and so the attention to detail is turned inwards. Kenton’s motivations are fluid and, while focused primarily on revenge, his rationale is not entirely unsound. He has endured an enormous amount of trauma and, to his limited understanding, Annev is responsible for much of his hardship. What I liked is that as his understanding improves, he does not stubbornly insist on clinging to all of his previous beliefs. His motivations seem extremely simple, and they are, but Call manages to make this compelling. I SHOULDN’T feel any sympathy for Kenton… and yet I do. His heart aches for a normalcy he has never known, and in his own twisted way he is making do as best he can with the twisted education he was given.

Myjun, similarly, mourns the loss of “normalcy” she was provided with at the Academy. Unlike Kenton, however, she throws herself into the pit of despair and misplaced blame, becoming a true monster in the process. While I did my best to empathize with her (given all that she has lost), I had a much more difficult time relating to her single-mindedness. Frankly, I found her to be the least compelling of the characters, motivated purely by an utterly misplaced desire for “revenge”. In the few moments where this “hardness” fades and we are treated to a glimpse of the scared, vulnerable girl inside, I did feel some pity. Her path in the novel is not entirely of her own making, and she did succumb to some serious manipulation. I feel like much of her arc in this book was composed of exposition, and I am holding out hope for a much more significant “internal” development of her character later in the series. It’s not that she’s not interesting, but… I just can’t stop hating her. If that was your intention Mr. Call: bravo!

Annev’s journey of course is the narrative around which everything else is built around, and there is certainly a good deal of payoff over the course of the book. More than anyone else, Annev truly comes to understand the extent to which Chaenbalu brainwashed its inhabitants. This, to me, was one of the most important developments in “Master Artificer”. If you’ll recall from my review of Book 1, I was dismayed by the ridiculous policies and practices of the Academy. It turns out that this was with good reason, as Chaenbalu was basically managed like a cult. As you delve further into Call’s world with Annev and friends, you’ll see just how backwards and harmful the Academy was in comparison to everything else. This is not to say that the rest of the world is not without its problems: there is war, slavery, corruption, poverty… but there is also companionship, love, learning, and freedom. While those aspects of Book 1 rubbed me the wrong way, it’s because they were supposed to. By adding this contrast, it makes leaving Chaenbalu that much more enjoyable. It was a risky move in my opinion, but it clearly paid off when I was devouring the massively expanded setting. Annev gets to see just how wrong everything was, and his perception of the world around him is always seen through this filter. His “moral education” as I’ll call it is also quite captivating. As an inverted “chosen one” trope, the idea that he may break bad at any particular moment tends to lurk in the back of one’s thoughts as one reads through the “Annev chapters” (and I’ll tease you a little by saying there are definitely tastes of this in the book).

My critique of “Master of Sorrows” was mainly centered around the pacing of the story, and I feel that criticism still holds up to an extent in the sequel. Without giving much away, I felt that the main characters “progressed” far, far too fast in certain respects. It’s easy at times to forget that these are basically just kids (not young children, but still fairly young nonetheless), and yet they constantly find themselves at ease in positions of power, sneering in the faces of things that would terrify others. I just found it jarring at times because to me, their reactions and behaviors are what I would expect of heroes and adventurers at the end of their career, seasoned legends who would spit in the eye of Death. I’ve given it a great deal of thought, and I’ve concluded that this rapid escalation may be a simple matter of necessity. To me, “The Silent Gods” series resembles “The Wheel of Time” in a number of ways; Call, however, likely does not have the luxury of stretching things out to the extent that Jordan did. The Publishing industry is certainly a different beast than it was back then! I’m still very confident, however, that the pacing will start to feel right as the series continues ( Justin has advised me that the series is a tetralogy, so he’s got ample time). Overall it’s a small criticism, but one I feel I need to mention for the sake of a full and honest review!

There is so much that I could say about this tome (at over 900 pages it’s a bit of a beast!), but I’ll limit myself to saying it is a worthy successor to Book 1. Call has ironed out a lot of the kinks, and managed to turn some of the shot-term weaknesses of the first book into long-term narrative strengths for his series. “Master Artificer” comes out in May, and I wholeheartedly suggest you pick up that pre-order for the beautiful hardcover, as it’s absolutely worth it. Don’t sit out this series: “The Silent Gods” is a “Wheel of Time” for a new generation, a clever inversion of the hero’s journey set in a vivid, meticulously-crafted setting. Justin T. Call is an author to watch!

Happy reading!

Pre-Order “Master Artificer”
Check out Justin T. Call on Twitter

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