Review Blog

Mar 26 2019

Master of Sorrows by Justin Call

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Gollancz, 2019. ISBN: 9781473222878. 577 pages, paperback.
(Age: 12+) Recommended. Contains violent scenes and depictions of death. High fantasy. The Academy of Chaenbalu has stood against magic for centuries. Hidden from the world, acting from the shadows, it trains its students to detect and retrieve magic artifacts, which it jealously guards from the misuse of others. Because magic is dangerous, something that heals can also harm, and a power that aids one person may destroy another. Of the Academy's many students, only the most skilled can become Avatars - warrior thieves, capable of infiltrating the most heavily guarded vaults - and only the most determined can be trusted to resist the lure of magic. More than anything, Annev de Breth wants to be one of them.
Master of sorrows is a strongly written dark fantasy novel, similar in tone and feel to the likes of We are blood and thunder by Kesia Lupo. Call does not hesitate to highlight the dark side of humanity, with the themes of lies, deception, discrimination, wars, and death featuring prominently in the novel. His worldbuilding is astounding and makes the story's setting feel grounded and real. He crafts a deeply flawed, young protagonist who bears too much at too young an age, making you feel empathy for Annev, rejoicing at his triumph and despairing as he falls while he fights for his chance in the sun. While Master of sorrows follows a trend of stories with academy-trained warriors, thieves and assassins, it stands out from the rest due to the protagonist's desire to rise above the brutality and act with mercy and compassion, which are often lost in similar stories. We see this empathy was developed through his bond with his mentor and as Annev experiences discrimination due to physical deformities, which in the novel, mark him as a vile agent of evil. Call speaks against this cruel and misinformed idea as he presents Annev as a flawed but deeply caring individual.
While this novel's themes are evident, the events seem jumbled and plot points were touched upon then never raised again in a way that felt unfinished or not explored to its full potential. There are also extremely disturbing descriptions not suitable for a younger audience. Despite this, this was a strong high fantasy novel full of both gritty realism and the buoyant kindness of the protagonist. I would recommend to people who enjoy stories such as Nevernight by Jay Kristoff and We are blood and thunder by Kesia Lupo.
Stephanie Lam(Student)

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