- Chasing Graves (The Chasing Graves Trilogy #1).
- Ben Galley.
- 302 pages.
- Fantasy / Grimdark / Fiction.
- My Rating: Hell Yeah Book Review.
Meet Caltro Basalt. He’s a master locksmith, a selfish bastard, and as of his first night in Araxes, stone cold dead.
They call it the City of Countless Souls, the colossal jewel of the Arctian Empire, and all it takes to be its ruler is to own more ghosts than any other. For in Araxes, the dead do not rest in peace in the afterlife, but live on as slaves for the rich.
While Caltro struggles to survive, those around him strive for the emperor’s throne in Araxes’ cutthroat game of power. The dead gods whisper from corpses, a soulstealer seeks to make a name for himself with the help of an ancient cult, a princess plots to purge the emperor from his armoured Sanctuary, and a murderer drags a body across the desert, intent on reaching Araxes no matter the cost.
Only one thing is certain in Araxes: death is just the beginning.
I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. This review also forms part of the Ben Galley Ultimate Blog Tour.
Quotes are taken from an ARC copy of the book.
The characterisation and world-building on display by Galley in Chasing Graves are both exceptional, Galley is highly talented and Chasing Graves is a hugely entertaining read.
“A person who longs to change the past will only see themselves as a product of what could have been”.
Caltro Basalt isn’t a hero or a fighter, he’s a thief and a renowned locksmith, one of the best but he’s down on his luck. When a mysterious papyrus letter appears on his doorstep requesting that he attend a meeting at The Cloudpiercer with a Nobel from Araxes he gets on a boat and travels to the city. Moments after he arrives in Araxes, Caltro falls foul of a gang who work for a soulstealer, is killed and ends up dead. Poor Caltro, he doesn’t get the chance to go to The Cloudpiercer, he doesn’t find out what the job would have entailed, nothing, he is killed, illegally bound and sold as a shade into the house of a Nobel before even getting to sample the delights that Araxes has to offer him.
The gods are dead and gone but before they went they left behind one final gift the ‘Tenets of the Bound Dead’. The way to bind ghosts and makes them slaves. They are bound with a copper coin, a ‘half-coin’ and water from the river Nyx. Half the coin goes in the mouth of the dead body and the other half remains in the possession of the owner of the ghost.
“Silence can be just as loud as cacophony”.
Wealth isn’t measured in gems and money in Araxes, it is measured in copper half-coins and how many shades a person owns. The more shades you own, the more powerful you are and at the top of the pile sits the Emperor.
Legal soul-trading takes place in Araxes. Deaths caused by natural causes, accidents and illness and then there is the illegal taking of souls. Deaths that aren’t natural or accidental, murders, killings, poisonings all to bolster the number of available shades and increase the power, profit, revenue and wealth of the soulstealers. There are laws and regulations regarding the trading of souls in place in Araxes but they are only very loosely regulated and upheld and Araxes is a lawless city where the trade in illegal soul-stealing is rampant and thriving.
Shades are a cheap workforce. After the initial expenditure and purchase of the bound soul they then require no upkeep, no amenities, no food and no wages, they are slave labour at its finest, they aren’t people, they are owned, they are property. There are a few free shades to be found in Araxes, those that have either been granted or purchased their freedom after years of servitude but they are very rare. Shades can feel pain, in death they do not have a pain free existence, copper hurts them. Copper threaded rope to bind and tie them and copper tipped arrows, daggers, swords and whips are all used to cause them suffering. Life is hard, death can is harder and lasts far longer.
“That was how I spent several hours turning the beauty of hindsight into a tool of torture”.
Caltro’s point of view is written in the first-person giving it a far more personal feel whereas, the other points of view are written in the third-person. Caltro is great, he’s more rotund and portly than muscular and strong with a sense of determination to him and a dry wit that he often uses. As a character, there’s a depth to him and you really feel for him as he attempts to adjust to his new situation while looking for answers and revenge. He feels wronged by his predicament and the circumstances in which he now finds himself, namely dead and a slave instead of alive and free and honestly, who can blame him? Life often throws you curve balls and deals you bad hands and Caltro had been dealt the worst hand of all.
The other points of view are Nilith, Boss Boran Temsa, a soulstealer and the empress-in-waiting Sisine. Temsa and Sisine are ambitious and devious characters who move in different circles and both have their eyes on gaining power in Araxes. The two are on different rungs on the social ladder, the nobility and the criminal class and due to this, you get to see all that Araxes has to offer from its population and many machinations and motivations are on display and at play from all of those involved. There is a chapter late in the book where the two finally meet. It is superbly written by Galley, it’s not action-packed but it is gripping reading. You find yourself hanging on their every word as they take the measure of each other, circling around topics, parrying back and forth and trading words like sword strokes in a duel.
Nilith’s story is separate to the others that all take place in Araxes. Nilith is journeying to Araxes and the Grand Nyxwell across the dangerous Long Sands. Accompanying her is the unbound moaning shade of her dead husband and her husband’s decomposing body. The often constant arguing and bickering between the pair is golden and yet another a highlight of the book. As a character Nilith is determined and tough, there is steel running through her veins.
I did guess the mystery revolving Nilith and her story arc. It’s no fault of Galley’s storytelling that I had twigged what was going to be revealed which is tremendous throughout Chasing Graves. Perhaps, it’s not so much as I guessed what the truth was either and more that when thinking to myself I had an inkling of what was going on that turned out to be right. I will say that the reveal certainly has intriguing ramifications for the next book in the trilogy.
To go along with the point of view characters and their story arcs there are plenty of other characters in Chasing Graves too, all with a role to play and many of them are well-realised by Galley who brings both the living and the dead to life.
Araxes is a huge, sprawling and densely populated city that is steeped in history. Galley has a descriptive way with words that makes Araxes come to life in his hands, whether it’s the bustling city streets or the corridors of Caltro’s owner’s residence. Likewise, The Long Sands and Nilith’s arduous treck. You feel her struggles, the dehydration, the grit of the sand and the heat of the desert radiates from off the pages.
Galley’s writing feels well-honed and flows easily from off the pages making Chasing Graves an effortless read that is infused with grim goodness. Galley captures your attention, drags you along on his dark tale and doesn’t let go. You’ll find yourself loving every minute. His writing can be darkly humorous and the addition of many clever puns and witty remarks helps to offset the darkness of the story. His writing also includes many poetic, meaningful and often profound passages spread throughout the pages.
“It was one of those memories that never failed to cut me, no matter how many years I spent trying to blunt it”.
Chasing Graves is never fast-paced or slow-paced and instead, the pacing feels right for the story that Galley is telling. There are bursts of action and excitement but plenty of room is also left for the reader to become acquainted with the characters and for the story to breathe.
My time spent reading Chasing Graves was overwhelmingly positive. The characters, the setting, the story and the writing are all fantastic. My only (slight) issue was with the ending. Galley ends Chasing graves on a cliffhanger and a rather abrupt one at that as the book just sort of finishes. As the first part in a trilogy, you expect that there won’t be a conclusive ending and that you will be left with a promise of more to come, which is fine. Galley has put the motions in place for what has the potential to be a truly epic story and trilogy but, with Chasing Graves it felt more like the ending of the first part in a book rather than the ending of an actual book. Sorry Ben, it’s only a minor grumble and I loved everything else about the book! 🙂
Some books outstay their welcome and go on and on before you finally reach the end, ending long after they should have finished. Chasing Graves isn’t one of them and that is why I felt so disappointed when it ended, I wanted to continue reading, I wanted to find out what happened next, I wanted to see how the stories of the characters further unfolded and it left me wanting more. Luckily, The Chasing Graves trilogy is already complete and the next two books (Grim Solace and Breaking Chaos) are already out.
Purchase Chasing Graves (The Chasing Graves Trilogy #1).
About Ben Galley.
Currently hailing from Victoria in Canada, Ben Galley is the award-winning author behind the gritty Emaneska Series, the Scarlet Star Trilogy, The Heart of Stone, voted Best Self-Published Fantasy novel in the 2017 Booknest Fantasy Awards, and a new dark fantasy series, the Chasing Graves Trilogy.
Aside from writing and dreaming up lies to tell his readers, Ben works as a self-publishing consultant and tutor, helping fellow authors from all over the world to publish and sell their books since 2012.
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