The Gods of Men
The Gods of Men 1
Barbara Kloss, May 18, 2018
Kindle eBook and Trade Paperback, 450 pages
Top 10 Finalist in Mark Lawrence's SPFBO 2018
Sable hated the gods. She hated what men did in their name.
Magic is forbidden throughout the Five Provinces; those born with it are hunted and killed. Sable doesn't know her music holds power over souls--not until, at age nine, she plays her flute before the desert court and accidentally stops her baby sister's heart, killing her. Horrified by what she's done and fearing for her life, she flees north, out of Provincial jurisdiction and into the frigid land of exiles and thieves, known as The Wilds. There, Sable lives in hiding, burdened by guilt, and survives as a healer. But now, ten years later, someone--or something--is hunting her.
On the run again, Sable's best chance for survival is Jos, a lethal man from the Five Provinces, who claims to need her skills as a healer to save his dying father, and she needs the large sum of money he's offered. There's something about him Sable doesn't trust, but she doesn't have many options. A spirit of the dead is hunting her, summoned by a mysterious necromancer, and it's getting closer.
Sable soon discovers she's just the start of the necromancer's plan to take over the Five Provinces, and she's the only one with the power to stop it. But harnessing her forbidden power means revealing it to the world, and the dangerous Provincial, Jos, she's beginning to fall for.
Fans of Brandon Sanderson, Naomi Novik, and Victoria Schwab will love this dark and epic fantasy adventure.
The Gods of Men by Barbara Kloss is the first novel in the series of the same name. The story focuses primarily on Sable, a healer, who had run away from her home a decade earlier, and Jos, who has his own secrets. I am going to be deliberately vague about characters and events in the novel to avoid spoiling anything.
There is so much to really love about this novel. Both Sable and Jos are well written characters. They are both hiding - from who they really are and from things they have done. Sable rejects her magic because of the death she caused and tries to make amends by being a healer in a town in The Wilds. It's a hard and horrible place and some of the things she does are not good but generally done for altruistic motives. Jos works for his father and brother and has spent a lot of time routing out those with magic (with extreme prejudice). He is dangerous and deadly.
Things are shaky in the Five Provinces because it appears that magic is making a comeback in a violent manner. It's not easy to figure out who is behind this resurgence and I was suitably surprised during the big reveal (which is gory and well done).
The world building is very good. Throughout the novel Kloss weaves in history, myths, magic, religion, and the geopolitical underpinnings of The Wilds and the Five Provinces. I enjoyed this immensely as I got a real sense of place and history. That said I would have liked more explanation of the magic system and more about its roots. Of course, Kloss could be saving some of this for later books in the series.
What truly makes this novel so good though are the characters. Both Sable and Jos journey through the physical world but are also making an emotional journey. They are not static characters; nor are they entirely likeable. While Sable and Jos are the main characters and their back and forth and nascent romance takes center stage, there are so many others who are interesting. Kloss really excels at writing characters who are not wholly good or evil, though there are plenty of characters whot are indeed awful. In particular Jos' older brother gave me some stomach turning moments.
Kloss handles the attraction between Sable and Jos well. It is really not the centerpiece of the novel, but is simply one facet of the relationship that develops slowly between the two. For me the story would have been ruined had it focused too closely on the romance aspects.
The ending is really well done, refreshingly not what I expected and without a cliffhanger. I'm looking forward to reading more in this series.