Book Review: Onslaught of Madness (The Madness Wars #1) by Jesse Teller
Wow. What a story. Intense, dark and brooding. Grittiness turned up to the max. This is the second novel I’ve read from Jesse Teller (read my review of the first, Song, here) and he definitely has a style that skilfully sucks the reader into his intricately imagined world and shows them no mercy once they’re there.
I was swept up in the distinctive multiple narratives, compelled to keep turning the pages to find out what happens next. I quickly realised my enjoyment of this novel heightened when I read in long gulps of a couple of hours or so at a time, rather than in little sips, to get the full immersive experience.
The story follows the invasion of the country of Tienne by the brutal country of Drine. Drine culture is essentially a war factory, with children taught to fight and kill from the time they can toddle. Women are baby makers from the moment they can bear children and slaves are captured to become more soldiers or mothers. They follow the god of destruction, Dis. Dis wants Tienne and sends his trusted warlord, Rextur Cherlot, otherwise known as the Madness of Drine, to crush it.
Rextur seems unstoppable, carrying the Scythe of Dis and riding on Dis’ great bull. But mighty Rextur's grand invasion plans come unstuck as the country of Tienne proves not to be such an easy target. Unlikely heroes step up to fight back, other Gods grant followers great powers and skilled swordsmen unite.
To maintain his power, Rextur captures his foe. But instead of making things better for him, they make them much, much worse. Moons shatter, cities crumble and blood is shed. For all his strength and divine magic, the Madness of Drine falters…
The story is also told from the point of views of those who are fighting back against Rextur. There’s Aaron the Marked, who follows his magical King Chief along with another, who have come down from the mountains to resist. The trio are all boys, although where they’re from, they are men. They’re skilled fighters and strategists. Bent on following his King’s orders, Aaron has to deal with the pesky annoyance of his dead father’s voice in his head telling him otherwise.
Tera is a young woman who is chosen by her god, the god of children, to find the new ‘Perpetual Child’ and save the Tienne children captured by Drine from being taken back to feed Drine’s war machine. For company and guidance, she has a magical wooden horse who speaks, and joins forces with a ‘pack’ of human/animals who follow another god, the Mother of Nature, but who also want to stop Rextur.
Vianne is a witch of high status who is forced into protecting her betrothed’s city after her own is invaded. She has troubles with her drunk brother and his scheming friend. There’s also Sai the swordsmen, and a treacherous mage, Arundis.
There’s plenty of action, deep worldbuilding and the writing is evocative with powerful imagery. I particularly liked this line: “The streets filled quickly with soldiers as Drine’s sons tore into the city of Eleacont like fangs into tender meat.” SO RAW!
This book took a few chapters to get into, to really get under the skin of each of the narrative characters, but once I was firmly ensconced there, it was an emotional, fast-paced ride. Also, one of the character’s narratives abruptly ends and is replaced by that of their murderer. I was hoping that the character would reappear in a kind of “Ta da, magic, I’m baaaaack!” way, but unfortunately not, and they were shaping up to be my favourite.
Onslaught of Madness is a grimdark fantasy that will appeal to those who love carefully created worlds with multi-layered histories, a large cast of complex characters, stories told from multiple POVs and bloody, unrelenting action.
My rating: 4.5/5
Goodreads | Author website
You can read my interview with the author Jesse Teller here.
*I received a review copy from the author
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