Kagen the Damned by Jonathan Maberry

Review by Brennan LaFaro

Horror is my heart, but I’ve got a soft spot for fantasy, always have. It began with Tolkien and Lewis, and progressed to Brooks, Novik, and Pratchett, but George RR Martin showcased what the genre could do with horror and ultra realism mixed in. Human stories told with swords and sorcery as a backdrop. So when one of the greatest modern voices in horror announced a series of doorstopper-thick fantasy novels, I paid attention.

Kagen takes its time setting up an intriguing premise. The Silver Empire falls in one night. Something that shouldn’t be possible, yet happened. Even more troubling, the magic wielded by the invaders has been stomped out by the ruling class. Yet Argentium goes down with barely a fight and Kagen Vale, the son of the notorious Poisoned Rose, makes a stand and then flees. From exile, he plots to overthrow the powerful Witch-King of Hakkia and rebuild the Silver Empire.

Jonathan Maberry fills the 560 pages of this tome with graphic violence, sex, twists, and turns. All the ingredients of a successful adult fantasy series. Though I have a soft spot for fantasy, it’s not the main genre I read, and I sometimes find it hard to stay invested in massive books that overwhelm the reader with a wide range of characters and locales. Kagen benefits from its streamlined nature. The plot runs linear and the supporting cast is tight and memorable. Maberry manages to pull this off without losing the sprawling epicness a story of this magnitude promises. He also flawlessly injects elements into the fantasy that only a horror writer could, weaving Lovecraftian gods in seamlessly.

As the story unfolds, it becomes clear to the reader how meticulous the plotting process was. Details dropped early on return hundreds of pages later for a payoff, and a main character introduced as a self-pitying drunk has the reader truly rooting for him after a time. Maberry provides a satisfying end to the book while also setting up bigger questions to be answered in the larger series.

Fans of Maberry, horror, and fantasy unite. Kagen the Damned has a little bit for everyone. A superb start to a promising series.

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