Paul reviews The Mountain of Souls, the first book in The Chosen series by Marcus Lee as part of the blog tour organized by Love Books Tours.
Disclaimer: For clarity and transparency, from the beginning, as well as receiving an early review copy, I was also a beta reader for The Mountain of Souls. Rest assured, though, there is no bias; this review is my honest opinion and includes both my positives and negatives.
|Series: The Chosen #1||Genre: Dark Fantasy, Epic Fantasy|
|Date of Publishing: February 19, 2023||Trigger Warnings: Violence, death, child death, torture|
|Page count: 450||Publisher: Self-Published|
Only the strong survive!
When Malina is sold at an auction block, she fears life will take a turn for the worse.
But even her darkest nightmares are nothing compared to the reality of what she faces when she’s delivered to the Mountain of Souls.
Thrust into a brutal selection process where failure means death, Malina must train and fight not only to survive but to prove herself worthy to serve.
The risks are deadly, but if she succeeds, the rewards are beyond measure, and a destiny unlike any other awaits as one of The Chosen.
The Chosen. A thrilling and intricately spun Epic Fantasy that weaves a relentless fight for survival into a tapestry full of conquest, deception, magic, and an ancient prophecy that will determine the fate of the human race.
“We don’t want to kill you, nor do we want you to die. You cost hard-earned money tobring here, to feed. I can assure you that I take no pleasure in today’s deaths, for they were unnecessary, but they neither listened nor learned.”
Being a massive fan of Marcus Lee’s debut series, The Gifted and the Cursed, I was beyond excited to discover a brand new series in the works. THE MOUNTAIN OF SOULS is the first book of The Chosen Trilogy, all of which should be available for purchase when this review goes live and the start of something pretty special.
So what’s THE MOUNTAIN OF SOULS about? The book is heavy on mystery and secrets, so I can’t say too much without stealing away your discoveries and revelations. I can say that it’s a first-person narrative, following the main character, Malina, who is purchased as a child, undergoes some pretty hardcore training and ultimately becomes somewhat of a badass. As you’re a good crowd, I’ll also say that the training is at the hands of a secretive cabal who are looking to make some pretty big plays on the world stage – and that’s your lot!
While not quite grimdark, THE MOUNTAIN OF SOULS does put its foot in the doorway on more than a few occasions, and the first chapter will give you an excellent taste of what’s to come. The opening had some hooks, capturing my attention like a slap around the face. It was intense, made all the better because of the very close first-person POV, sensory descriptions, and the bamboozlement you’d feel if you woke up and had been transported into a Saw movie. While not excessively so, it is still very dark with lots of bone-crunching action, fight scenes are as brutal and clinical as you’d expect from a Marcus Lee novel, with no one being safe from his literary axe.
Characters have a generous amount of depth, personality, and humanity, not least the main character Malina. The use of first-person narrative does a fantastic job of getting inside Malina’s head; it’s very close, and it felt as though I was looking through her eyes. It reminded me a little of Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun in terms of the narrative style and closeness to the primary character. Malina starts off as somewhat of a blank canvas; she’s obviously very strong, intelligent and resourceful, so as the pages fly past, there’s constant and believable development. She’s a character very much in the vein of Eska from Rob J. Hayes’ War Eternal series; she exudes both destiny and agency and feels as though she has unbounded potential.
Outside of Malina, there is a solid cast of secondary characters. There are both friends and rivals within her training group, as well as a handful of instructors. The relationship between them is deliciously tense, the ‘friends’ are in competition with one another, and the instructors aren’t quite what they seem. There’s a very palpable atmosphere of indoctrination and control, and while it’s very insidious, it does have very visible effects on the characters themselves. Seeing them subtly change, and not entirely of their own volition, adds a nice amount of background tension. You feel it in some of the interactions and observations, they’re friends but could quite easily kill one another with the slightest nudge or provocation.
Being the first book of a new series, there’s a sizeable amount of world-building, but it’s all done really well. You learn a great deal of the wider world through organic conversations, though, given the shifty nature of the organisation Malina finds herself working for, it’s not all as it seems. The gradual release of lore and intrigue makes for a gripping read and one that always manages to seduce you into devouring a chapter or two more than you had planned.
The only negatives I had were extremely minor and entirely personal. Malina is a little overpowered in some respects later in the book, but not to any degree that it detracts from her character, and there were a couple of scene transitions that were a little sudden for my tastes.
Honestly, though, THE MOUNTAIN OF SOULS is a terrific read and the start of a spectacular new fantasy series. It has all the ingredients of an exceptional fantasy novel, engaging and believable characters, excellent pacing, an abundance of twists, and all wrapped up in a dark, consequence-laden world.
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