Book Review and Author Interview: Faithless by Graham Austin-King (published by Fallen Leaf Press)
At the end of October, I attended a science fiction and fantasy convention called BristolCon and there I had the pleasure of hearing Graham Austin-King reading from Faithless. I had already started the novel, and Graham kindly agreed to answer some questions for me. So, below is my review and then an interview with the author.
Faithless is a dark, gritty, grimdark horror mash up and I loved it! Set in a city within a cavern in a mountain, the mines that trail off from this cavern, and the temple that sits at the entrance, the story has an intense and claustrophobic feel to it, the writing perfectly describing the action that takes place in this world with little natural light, small passages and relentless physical work.
We follow the journey of Wynn, a naive young farmer whose father sells him to the Temple of the Forgefather. Wynn, expecting to serve in the temple, is ushered below ground to the city of Aspiration which has grown next to the mines. Those who live here are slaves to the religious order that inhabits the temple above ground, and have either been brought here like Wynn (and called aspirants), or born below ground. The mines are busy – and have strict quotas to meet – bringing up metals including iron, copper and gold, or charcoal, for use in the temple of the Forgefather.
However, the mines aren’t your usual kind of mines, oh no, as the Utterdark, the name for the pitch blackness that can send the miners mad, lurks and preys on weak minds. Plus, there are mysterious Listeners who can ‘hear’ where the precious metals like gold are and tell the miners where to dig. There is also only one way out of the mines and into service in the temple – to impress in forging metal and knowledge of the religion – and aspirants are given one chance to pass the test. Most fail.
The religious order believes that their god, the Forgefather, manifests himself in the fire of the forge and the working of metal. They once were powerful, but many years before was The Fall, an event that changed their fate forever as the Forgefather disappeared and left them, and no one quite knows why. Now, this temple is the only one left and the religion is slowly dying.
The second point of view in the story is told from the novice priest Kharios, who is a talented forger and has a questioning mind, searching out the reasons as to why The Fall happened. He pisses off his depraved tutor, Father Ossan, and is sent back to the mines.
Wynn and Kharios’s stories weave together, and the final few chapters are pretty spectacular as Father Ossan attempts a chant to bring back the god but unleashes something horrific instead… the risen.
I loved the descriptions of the world, the darkness and forging of the metals. Also, the chants that they sing to the fire and to the metals, and the deep history of the religion and it’s fall. The concept of a city growing up next to the mines within a large cave in the mountain was brilliantly done, the life of the miners was hellish and desperate, but they got on with it, and the balance of power in the city was controlled brutally by an overseer.
I also liked the characters, very believable. Wynn is a bit slow to catch on about what has happened to him and where he finds himself, blurting out obvious questions and not picking up on hints or remembering information. He’s also selfish, and a bit of a coward, and finds himself mothered by a strong woman called Killen, who takes him under her wing. But he’s also clever, hardworking and resourceful. He’s not heroic, or perfect, but I found myself rooting for him, and completely believing his actions.
The ending was great – it was bleak and uncertain, and I like that about the grimdark novels I’ve read. Not everyone is going succeed in their noble task and not everyone wants an honourable task in the first place!
So why not five stars? I found myself a little lost early on when switching between Kharios and Wynn and had to reread the past chapters to remind myself what had happened. But otherwise, an excellent read. One for those who don’t always want a cookie-cutter hero and a happily ever after ending.
I received a free review copy of Faithless from Netgalley. Unfortunately, it didn’t have the front cover. So below is the gorgeous cover and my Q&A with Graham.
My rating: 4/5
Q. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I'm a slightly mad father of four. Some people agree that my books don't suck.
Q. What is the best book you have ever read and why?
Is there such a thing as a best book? The books I've reread more than any others have been Patrick Rothfuss's "Name of the Wind" – largely for the prose, Andy Weir's "The Martian", and David Eddings' Belgariad series.
Q. Where did the idea for Faithless come from?
In a way Faithless grew out of a failure. I'd just finished my previous trilogy, the Riven Wyrde Saga, and I needed a break. Stopping writing completely tends to be a bad idea so I thought I'd have a go at a novella. I wanted to write something short and punchy, a bit like the dungeon hack computer games of the late 80' early 90's. Faithless is a little less than 140,000 words so something clearly went wrong somewhere. The notion of the Utterdark came along quite early on – it was a fun character and concept to play around with. I suppose I just sort of ran with it. I don't really plot books out so this isn't unusual, the best parts of all my books are things that I'd made up on the fly.
Q. How long did it take you to write Faithless? Any substantial changes whilst writing?
I think it took slightly less than a year all told – I'm not really sure to be honest. I had a six week break in the middle where very little was done as my kids were off school. As for changes, there were a few. Killen began as a man. The whole beginning of the book was revamped – Wynn didn't even exist originally. The book originally ended inside the temple as well. Other than that the edits and changes were largely for the sake of clarity.
Q. Faithless is described as a grimdark fantasy – and I’ve described it in my review as a grimdark horror mash up – readers are likely familiar with the horror genre, can you explain what grimdark means?
There are almost as many definitions of grimdark as there are YA and I'm not about to dance into that minefield. I didn't really write the book with the intention of it being grimdark, though my writing has grown progressively darker in tone. I certainly wanted it to be gritty, and I wanted to challenge not only the reader but also the notion of the perfect hero. None of us are perfect and we've all made bad/tough choices, Faithless asks the reader if they'd actually do anything different in that situation.
Q. Faithless is set in a city within a mine and in the temple at the entrance to that mine – what kind of research did you do to understand how mines/miners work, to be able to detail the metal forging so intricately?
I had some long conversations about forge craft and mines with some helpful friends. I also spend quite a bit of time watching various YouTube documentaries and on Wikipedia. Research is a lot easier with the internet.
Q. Is Faithless the first book in a series? What can you tell us about forthcoming books?
Faithless will certainly have sequels and is planned to be a trilogy though it may end up being longer. Because all of Faithless takes place within the temple, the mines, and Aspiration, there is a whole world to explore now and the reader should get to see a fair chunk of it.
Q. What are you currently working on / excited about?
I'm currently painting my house. I'm very excited to be finished so I can get on with writing more of Faithless 2.
Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
I'm reasonably active on both Facebook and Twitter. Failing that my website is GrahamAustin-King.com
Thanks Graham! Faithless is available from Amazon on the Shop Now link below.
**My debut novel, an epic fantasy called MELOKAI, is out now! Available from Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Google Play Books, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. Read more about my books here.**
Click here for your free ebook of my fantasy novella THE FALL OF VAASAR.
Click here for my Book Review Policy.
Are you on Goodreads? Let's be friends! Find me here.
Subscribe to my email mailing list to be notified about new releases, giveaways, price promotions, free books, free short stories as well as exclusive extra content.