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Servant of a Dark God    by John Brown order for
Servant of a Dark God
by John Brown
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2010 (2009)
Hardcover, Paperback, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Servant of a Dark God is John Brown's fantasy debut, and it's a strong one, set in a world where powerful beings (Glories) harvest humankind, feeding on the days and years of individual lives. Divines rule every land in this world, heading a hierarchy of power. Everyone fears and loathes Sleth, soul-eaters who possess unnatural strength and whose touch can steal 'Fire and Soul'.

Talen is a half-breed, his father Koramite, though his mother came from the Mokkadian master race. He lives with his Da (Horse), his older sister River and older brother Ke. He's also close to his full-blood Mokkadian cousin Nettle and uncle Argoth. The latter leads troops against the barbarian Bone Faces, who torture, kill and enslave their captives.

Talen's troubles begin when the Mokkadians launch a Sleth hunt. They kill village master smith Sparrow and capture his Sleth wife Purity, but their two children (Sugar and blind Legs) escape. Readers also learn of a Mother who has created a monstrous being, Hunger, out of dirt, stones, and grass, to harvest souls for her. But Hunger, once a villager named Barg, still feels a connection to some of these souls and hopes that the Mother will spare them.

Sugar and Legs end up hiding on Horse's farmstead. When Talen learns this, he wants to give them up, but his father forbids it. Talen gradually discovers that his family are Sleths, belonging to a secret Order whose members are able to harvest Fire. He is greatly conflicted as he's grown up in a society that believes their kind to be evil.

Danger builds - not only do the Mokkadians hunt Sleths, but Hunger (on the Mother's orders) strives to capture the 'human wizards'. Horse awakens Talen's abilities, and Nettle makes a dreadful sacrifice to aid his father. Together and at a great cost, Talen and Sugar manage to defeat the Mother. As this episode ends, Argoth prepares to lead a rebellion against the Glories.

Servant of a Dark God is an excellent start to a new epic fantasy, set in a well realized world. I'm looking forward to further adventures for Talen, his family and friends.

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