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We Are The Dead by Mike Shackle

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ruth Wilson
Reviewed by Ruth Wilson
Summary: This is a brilliant and unusual book in which a cast of characters, wholly unconnected to each other, work together to take back their land, their rights and their freedom. This is a book about bravery, about fellowship and about not being a hero. WARNING: this is not a book for the young adult reader - there are some scenes of brutal torture.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 496 Date: August 2019
Publisher: Gollancz
ISBN: 978-1473225213

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Mike Shackle has written a really interesting and unusual story in We Are The Dead; the tag line for the novel is 'No More Heroes' and that is what makes this story so different. There are villains galore but no specific heroes; rather the story is scattered with characters doing their own small part to survive, to fight back, and to find vengeance, in a world that has been utterly torn apart. The plot does not hang on any one character, no one is important, anyone can die and many do, but, like ants working together, each small character achieves their own part of a much larger plot that is rich and complex and keeps the reader glued to the story.

The first few chapters act almost like a prologue, Tinnstra is the first character to be introduced, and the scene is set of the world that is to follow. From there the reader jumps to Dren in another city and from there to Jax on the border between Jia, where the story is set, and the enemy territory of Egris. In these first few chapters, the reader gets a feel for the world, the characters, and the Shulka. The whole premise of the novel is set round the religious ideology of the Shulka and their prayer, 'We Are The Dead', in which they are trained to give their life to die in battle, therefore they are already dead. The Shulka are the most dominant fighting force in the world, they are unmatched and unparalleled and they rule Jia as the King's military. The next chapter in called Invasion.

The story then jumps to six months later and we pick up again with our characters, plus some new ones, in the aftermath of the invasion. This is where the plot really picks up pace because Shackle introduces some fabulous villains. Yas, a single mother recruited as a spy, often torments herself wondering if these warriors from Egris are really just young men who love their mothers but Shackle leaves the reader in no doubt that these are monsters who live and die for death and pain. The Egris Chosen are the most vicious, the most deadly and the cruellest of all the warriors and, of these, the plot follows Darus. Darus is a glorious character; he allows the reader to learn more about the world of Egris and gives a broader historical view of the fantasy world, but also he is utterly despicable. Darus was one of my favourite characters to read, as the plot went on and he got more and more desperate to succeed his methods became more and more despicable and the writing of his own mental condition in his determination to succeed was excellent. A note here, it is gruesome and not a novel for the Young Adult reader; there are scenes of torture and it is brutal.

At first, the characters we meet are just scrabbling to survive in the aftermath of the invasion, but, as the plot unfolds, the characters are drawn into the greater arc of the story, one of rebellion. In this way, Shackle carefully choreographs the characters to move around each other, each one in the right place at the right time. Some meet each other and help each other, some never meet at all, some form friendships, some die for each other but all the characters, without knowing each other at the start of the novel, and some without ever meeting at all, all move together to create a masterpiece of a story about hope, resistance and fellowship.

This was a fabulous book. It was not always fast paced, but it didn't need to be, but the characters felt honest and as a reader you feel for them and root for them. I had my favourite characters, and some were characters who were killed off, but it was an immensely satisfying story, and it sets up the rest of the series very well. I would highly recommend this novel; alternatively, for something similar you could also try The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter.

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