Knights of the Dead God by James Jakins
Review by Michael Evan
So first off…James Jakins is one of my favorite authors. Both first volumes in his other two series (Thunder’s War and Jack Bloodfist) were exceptional. He knows how to connect with the reader by always staying one step ahead and offering Easter eggs and shout outs to past books and characters, and like the best indie filmmakers he focuses on strong character interaction, and a unique tone and mood.
Knights of the Dead God is a special book. It’s certainly one of the best I’ve read all year and quite possibly in my top 5 novels of all time. The novel focuses on 3 central characters all wonderfully rendered and fleshed out by the author. Our first person MC is Mikaia Goretusk, a 6 year old Half Orc little girl who along with her protector Arthur Shield, a former Paladin of the God Saban, has fallen or teleported in to an alternate world, the world where Shield once served his deity Sabah on a mission to rid the world of the Orc race for destroying a great temple. Mikaia, separated from her parents entrusts Arthur (no longer tied to his God) to help her find her way back home. This leads to an encounter with Hazel, a young witch with a tragic back story, who slightly opportunistically (but with good intentions ) takes on the role of Mikaia’s protector in order to fulfill her own destiny that she believes Arthur Shield can help her accomplish, while Arthur struggles to find acceptance from his Paladin kin after years of separation and being thought dead.
Sound confusing? It’s really not, mainly because Jakins’ prose is so wonderfully straightforward, flowing without being flowery and he allows his characters, through dialogue and interaction to get to know each other and their stories while we get to know them as well.
Thematically , “Knights” deals with some large philosophical issues, mainly those that focus on the concepts of belief and inclusion. In Arthur Shield we are faced with a true redeemed hero, who allows his views on the world around him, specifically on certain races to change by looking outside his long standing belief system, and facing infidel status to protect his friends and loved ones.
The novel, like all of Jakins’ works shifts from Mikaia’s first person narrative, to third person sections focusing on Arthur and Hazel. This allows for changes in intensity and perspective and is but one of Jakins’ many literary strengths.
Knights of the Dead God is 185 pages. Some might consider it a short novel. Some might refer to it as a lengthy novella. That said, it should be required reading in creative writing classes as an example of less is more and how to tell a perfect fulfilling story without pages and pages of unnecessary exposition. After reading this book, I felt like I knew these characters. I had been on an intense journey with them, and I wanted to know them more. It felt important , epic and game changing, and not once did I doubt Jakins’ ability to wrap the novel up effectively in less than 200 pages. His pacing was perfect, and it remained so to the very last word.
I will end this review with a warning , and perhaps with a recommendation that will make you love Miki, Arthur and the rest of the “Knights” cast even more. This book is in fact a spin off to “Jack Bloodfist:Fixer” the novel which placed Jakins as a finalist in 2017’s SPFBO competition. Many references in the novel allude to situations that take place in “Jack” where we meet a very different Arthur Shield, and we are introduced to Mikaia Goretusk in a much more innocent way. Having read and loved “Jack” first I can assure you that those references in “Knights” will not only mean more but have you laughing hysterically and stoked for another great Jakins novel. It’s a testament to a great writer, when a book so entrenched in world building can stand on its own, but to fully experience the wonder of this unique world I’d recommend starting with Jack.
At this point I will read whatever Jakins puts out and I can’t wait for more Arthur, Miki and Jack. I’d rank it 6 stars if possible. Perfection!