Wraith Lord by: C.T. Phipps
Review by: Steve Caldwell
I often mention in my reviews the sophomore slump, that tendency of a second book in a series to be a bit of a letdown after an especially good series debut. I can happily say that Wraith Lord suffers no letdown from Wraith Knight, and is equal to or surpasses it in every measure, whether it be worldbuilding, depth of characters or action and pacing.
The story starts five years after the end of Wraith Knight, and Jacob Riversson, former commander of the Shadowguard, former involuntary Wraith Knight and now inheritor of the mantle and power of the god of evil, The King Below, is living in the Shadowlands with his two wives, the warrior Regina ni Whitetremor and the sorceress Serah Brightwaters, as they struggle to unite the shadow races into a unified force. Not the easiest thing since the King Below kept them in line through terror and slavery. That’s not how Jacob intends to rule. Also, he has less power than the King Below, since he split the power three ways with Regina and Serah. While his brides both want to raise up their armies and go invade the Southern Kingdoms and kill the Nine Heroes who usurped the empire, Jacob, while he spent 2 and half centuries as a Wraith Knight (think Ring Wraith), has no real desire to wreak all that death and destruction on the South.
Events start in motion though, when a figure thought dead re-enters Regina’s life, chased by a figure from Serah’s more dubious past, Fel Hellsword, one of the Nine Heroes, and a powerful Archmage. This new person causes a change in plans, since they now have an idea of where Jassamine, the leader of the Nine, and Saint of the Alessian Empire and The Lawgiver, the god of that empire, is planning to strike next: Kerifas, a city traditionally at the center of territorial disputes. It seems the Imperials are forcing all the non-human’s in the city into ghettos in an attempt to get them to rise up. Since the cities Fir Bolgs (blue skinned nd antlered humanoids) are already living in those ghettos, they aren’t happy having some of their blood enemies such as Jotuns and Boggans forced into their territory. This revelation forces our antiheroes to discover what the Nine’s plan is, and try and stop it before a small scale genocide can be brought to fruition, ending in a climactic battle of bad vs. worse, since no one in this story has clean hands.
One thing I loved about Wraith Knight was the grimdark sense of moral ambivalence, the sense that the “Hero” wasn’t so much an anti-hero, and more an anti-villain, fairly amoral and very much and ends justify the means character. This book increases that trend, as all three of the triumvirate of Dark Gods are morally flexible at best, and power hungry potential despots at worst. Still, in comparison to the truly evil Nine Heroes, they come across pretty well. The worldbuilding is top notch, with The Shadowlands expanded upon, as well as adding Kerifas as a setting, with its huge disparity in rich and poor quarters, and it’s long history as disputed territory. The new and expanded creature types are interesting, and the added characters, especially Ketras, really add to the story. All these characters seem like real people in the worst situation, with their flaws magnified by the stresses placed upon them, and some of them rising above it to do the right thing, whatever that may be. The action scenes are well written, and the final battle scene has so many twists I just didn’t see coming. Overall, its more of what made Wraith Knight such a grimdark gem to read, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.