Friday, 12 August 2016
Infernal by Mark de Jager
review by Maryom
Stratus slowly regains consciousness, with no memory of who he is, or why he's lying immobile while vultures circle overhead ready to feast on him. All he knows is his name, that the body he's in doesn't feel like his and that lurking in his mind is something twisted and bestial, full of rage.
Told in the first person, the story follows Stratus as he attempts to find answers to his questions of who, what, and maybe even why, he is. He may look like a man, but their world is strange to him, and he doesn't understand their motivations or fears, making him seem callous and often brutal. Add to this his dark skin, strength, and fits of rage when the beast inside can't be subdued, and it's easy to see why most who encounter him immediately label Stratus as a demon, but seeing events from his point of view he comes over as an innocent gifted with superhuman strength (with a certain similarity to Frankenstein's monster).
Stratus stumbles his way onward through this unknown world, struggling to make sense of what he encounters, meeting violence with violence, realising that he has sorcery within him that can shape men's thoughts and actions, but still needing answers. The kingdom of Krandin in which Stratus finds himself is torn apart by war, falling before the forces of the Penullin empire led by the Worm Lord and an army of wizards - and opinion is divided as to whether he has been sent by this magic-wielding war lord, or could prove to be a weapon against him - either way, no one really has Stratus's best interests at heart, so he continues on his personal quest.
As you may have guessed, this is a rather violent book - so not one for the faint-hearted and squeamish - but I loved it; the most troubling section I found to be when Stratus has ventured into crypts and caverns far underground - and someone mentions the weight of earth piled above! It's also funny, in a dark, warped way, often turning Stratus's lack of understanding, and even his threats to life and limb, into deadpan humour, which I liked. Although the backdrop of kingdoms at war, one holding an unfair advantage due to drawing on (probably evil) magic, is fairly familiar within the fantasy genre, having an amnesiac protagonist with deep dark secrets gave it a new, compelling twist. All in all, it's an excellent debut. I'm sure the story isn't finished yet, and I for one will be looking forward to the next instalment.
Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Del Rey (Penguin Random House)
Genre - adult fantasy