Spolier Free Summary: The Heresy Within by Rob J. Hayes is a the first book in The Ties that Bind series. A knife for hire, a female blade master, and an Arbiter (religious traveling wizard), collide while pursing parallel paths to a common goal. Two of them hate each other. Two of them are attracted to each other. The rest of the world wants them all dead. Their common enemy is someone who’s learned the dark secret of where the arbiters gain their powers, and why they have to guard that secret so closely. This was my July 2017 Book Cover of the Month winner.
(CONTENT WARNING: This is dark, graphic and sexually explicit. Only for adults.)
Character: In a story about a group of antiheroes, the trick is to give each of them a degree of sympathy. I think the arbiter (Thanquil) and the knife for hire (The Black Thorn) are fascinating character studies. Their flaws are real, and Thanquil’s core desire is admirable even if his job forces him into so brutal situations. I wasn’t such a fan of Jezzet, as her character seems oddly submissive for a blademaster, but I can say that submissiveness is a character arc she works with, so while I wasn’t a huge fan, I at least understood it was intentional. This story bounced around with these characters quite a bit, and that got confusing and frustrating in the early chapters. However, once I had everyone figured out, I could follow the story and connect better with each character. I’ve encountered this same problem in my writing, but I feel both I and Hayes made the right choice. The cost of confusion is worth the reward of sympathetic characters.
Exposition: Most of this was hidden in the dialogue. It wasn’t overly noticeable. It might be a tad “infodumpy” (word copyright M.L.S. Weech) in a spot or two, but once the plot gets moving, the action makes up for any lag early in the story.
World building: This element of the book had more promise than actual results, but as the first book in the series, I feel it was an intensional tease on the author’s part. We get just enough to make us want to learn how things work. I found myself wanting to learn more (especially about the magic system), but I was at least satisfied with what I did get. The author clearly did a lot of work prepping a dark, visceral world with many secrets to discover. If you can get through the content (or like that sort of content), you’ll love the depth this world offers, but book one is more a flash of how epic this world can be than it is a revelation of the world’s depth.
Dialogue: I may be the victim of the audio narrators on this part. Some of it seemed a bit forced, and it’s possible the narrators over-emphasized that. It wasn’t stilted or wooden by any means. It just felt a little more caricature-like than I might have appreciated. That said, the raw nature of their dialogue (most of these characters are extremely flawed) comes out in the dialogue, and it supported the development of each character.
Description: Having been as long as it’s been since I read it (May 23), I remember less about it than I’d like. The good news is I remember I didn’t feel overly burdened with minute details (something I don’t appreciate about some fantasy). What I do remember is actually wanting a bit more detail here or there. Not another 100,000 words of detail, just a bit more here and there. For instance The Black Thorn is burned, but I don’t remember much detail about the burns. It sort of reminds me of what people tell me is the blemish on Samantha’s face in Ready Player One which turned out to be quite minimized in the movie (I still liked the movie for the record). What I mean is I know he’s burned, but I’m not really sure how badly. Those little details are things I think I would have liked.
Overall: I can appreciate the writing and plot of this story. I would have been more captivated with it three years ago than I am now (I’m more sensitive to some content than I used to be). What I know is it took a bit to get into things (bouncing characters). Interesting world building and compelling characters made this a story that people can get into. It’s a great book one with a lot of teasing into some larger scope. Fans of dark fantasy with a lot of grit will probably enjoy this.
Thanks for reading,