This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
19.01.21 / Fantasy / Titan Books / Paperback / 432pp / 978-1789094985
Target Audience: Those who enjoy expansive, well refined and compelling fantasy novels centred around heroes, savages, gods and demons. Experienced from a single perspective and elaborated in vivid, adrenaline fuelled and ferocious action set pieces and compelling mythology.
About Hall Of Smoke
Epic fantasy featuring warrior priestesses and fickle gods at war, for readers of Brian Staveley’s Chronicles of the Unhewn Throne.
Hessa is an Eangi: a warrior priestess of the Goddess of War, with the power to turn an enemy’s bones to dust with a scream. Banished for disobeying her goddess’s command to murder a traveller, she prays for forgiveness alone on a mountainside.
While she is gone, raiders raze her village and obliterate the Eangi priesthood. Grieving and alone, Hessa – the last Eangi – must find the traveller and atone for her weakness and secure her place with her loved ones in the High Halls. As clans from the north and legionaries from the south tear through her homeland, slaughtering everyone in their path Hessa strives to win back her goddess’ favour.
Beset by zealot soldiers, deceitful gods, and newly-awakened demons at every turn, Hessa burns her path towards redemption and revenge. But her journey reveals a harrowing truth: the gods are dying and the High Halls of the afterlife are fading. Soon Hessa’s trust in her goddess weakens with every unheeded prayer.
Thrust into a battle between the gods of the Old World and the New, Hessa realizes there is far more on the line than securing a life beyond her own death. Bigger, older powers slumber beneath the surface of her world. And they’re about to wake up.
H. M. Long’s Hall Of Smoke details the staggering, punishing odyssey of Eangi warrior priestess Hessa, fighting her way through a sea of relentless savages, righteous warriors, brawling gods and vicious, corrupt demons. Hessa is adrift, desperate for the reconciliation and peace she’s owed as a devoted warrior of the Goddess Of War, Eang, but her chance at a reprieve is slipping away. Hessa must put her mistake right, kill the traveller she let live, and gain entrance into the high halls alongside all those she has lost.
The gods are scared, distant and lost. Older gods are returning, bringing death and war with them. But even those gods are aware that something bigger, more powerful is coming for them. Fate cannot be ignored. Hessa must battle through and gain the trust of both humanity and the divine, searching for the man with mismatched eyes who’s death can quell the chaos. Avoiding men who forced their god upon others. Dodging the savages that destroyed her life. Pleading with a goddess that has all but abandoned her. Trusting the few that look to help her on her travels. All while struggling to ignore that burdensome, troubling doubt in her god and focus on those she can still save.
Hall Of Smoke is an absolutely remarkable, compelling and expansive fantasy experience that took hold of me completely. I may be coming on strong here but if you have any interest in fantasy, no matter how minute, then Hall Of Smoke is a must read for four good reasons.
Firstly the phenomenal lead character Hessa. Secondly the fully realised and engrossing story. Thirdly is the captivating world filled with gods, demons (more like corrupted shadow gods) and rival civilisations. Finally there is H. M. Long’s brilliant, detailed, action-filled and insightful writing. All coalescing into one of the best, most refined fantasy novels I had the pleasure to review.
HML decided to go with a singular character in a first person perspective which I haven’t personally seen in fantasy very much. It was the best decision because it really highlighted each moment, each stage of events and it was satisfying to invest myself in Hessa. HML took the time and effort to really break down Hessa, her beliefs, motivations, abilities and her identity. Doing her absolute best to crush Hessa’s mind, body and spirit while building her up to her true potential. You really feel all of Hessa adrenaline, emotion and tension but at the same time her triumphs and successes too.
And in doing so I think she may have revealed a fantastic formula that proves that a lead character can be a totally badass and desperately vunerable without comprising either quality. Hessa’s story is savage and uncomfortable but it is also wonderous and as she overcomes each challange, it becomes clearer what HML has instore for her and I became even more excited for the conclusion. Hessa sees the world in so many ways, the war, the beauty (singing is a huge part of the atmospheric development) and survival. For me, Hessa set a new bar for quality character development because it was so intune with all other aspects of the book. It felt organic, memorable and gave me the opportunity to truly sink into these pages.
I have read a lot of fantasy and there are truly epic books that detail every facet of the world they take place in. I’m talking Lord Of The Rings. I don’t think I’ve read a book that does this properly in just one novel though. Well not until Hall Of Smoke. Better yet it is done through a focused, engaging plot instead of just being listed off for effect in exposition or hinted at from a distance and not really explored. Hessa sets foot almost everywhere in this novel and each place is so unique and intriguing. We only see through Hessa’s eyes. We only know what she knows and we have learn or react alongside her. And HML revealed a huge world this way, but in a smart, fragmented way that gradually brings each element together to complete our perspective on this world and the truth behind its conflict.
My favourite thing about the story is that it is secretive. Information is currency and being kept in the dark is powerful. But HML’s detail makes each reveal, and each fight, mean something. HML loves detail, she’s in no rush to drive the plot forward and that is a huge bonus here. There is so much to experience, to look at, to be scared of and to revel in and HML gives the reader that time. And HML’s ability to write fight scenes is outstanding. So much depth, detail and action. I was impressed on every occasion about her knowledge of tactics, armaments, weaponry and her vivid depiction of combat of both human and divine origin.
That leaves my absolute favourite aspect of this novel. The cultures that exist below and the gods that rule above (or at least in another realm). There are some obvious influences here from Greek, Norse and Roman mythology to lore and legend. HML has embraced those influences and crafted her own unique and amazing spin on all that history. The pantheon of gods in this book is, after Hessa, the reason I couldn’t leave it alone.
These gods are not shy or elusive (well when they are not running for their lives). They walk amongst those who embrace them. They fight alongside them. Each culture praying to their gods, bleeding for them and representing them in mind, body and soul. Hessa is a warrior of Eang, Goddess Of War but there are so many to speak of. I really like Ogam, son of Winter, his presence is felt along time before his arrival and his history with his mother is dark. And Styga who’s enveloping presence threatens Hessa on many occasions. Each god is meaningful, fleshed out and awesome.
The divine war in Hall Of Smoke is off the rails. Old gods vs new gods. Current gods trying to take over all gods. And even more ancient powers trying to break free. It is elaborate, endlessly cool and intriguingly clever. Each time I got to meet another god I felt like I did when playing God of War or reading Joanne M. Harris novels. It was also interesting that HML was able to hide certain gods in plain sight. So satisfying.
The plethora of gods and demons made an already humanly savage story into a truly heroic one. I could not get enough of Hall Of Smoke. There wasn’t a point where I felt disconnected, frustrated or uninterested for what feels like a lengthy novel. And with an ending that made so much sense, I couldn’t have asked for more. Hessa’s story is one of identity, loss, underestimation and pure chaos and I recommend it to you all with all my might. I was beginning to feel like fantasy was running out of surprises but I was wrong.
About H. M. Long
H. M. Long is a Canadian fantasy writer, author of HALL OF SMOKE and TEMPLE OF NO GOD, who loves history, hiking, and exploring the world. She lives in Ontario, but can often be spotted snooping about European museums or wandering the Alps with her German husband.