Book Review - SIN EATER by Mike Shel

(Title: Sin Eater / Author: Mike Shel / Publisher: Self-Published / Publication Date: May 20, 2019)

Mike Shel is an author who is really making quite a name for himself in the self-published Fantasy stratosphere.  Mike's first book in his Iconoclasts series, Aching God, was one of my favorite reads from last year and is currently among the top 10 finalists in Mark Lawrence's Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off #4.  That right there should give you just some indication of the quality of storytelling that Shel brings to the table.  I have been impatiently waiting for the next book in this series for what seemed like an eternity on the heels of the amazing finish of Aching God.  So when Mike offered me the opportunity to read an advance copy of his second installment SIN EATER, well I think I just about jumped out of my skin with excitement.  Shortly thereafter I pulled up a couch, popped open a hoppy adult beverage, and settled down for what I hoped was going to be another mesmerizing read.

The opening pages of SIN EATER return us to the world of the Hanifaxan Imperium, at the center of which is all powerful ruler Queen Geneviva, "long may she reign".  The Queen still rules her empire with an unquestioned iron fist and still has a penchant for human blood and flesh from time to time due to a sorcery-enhanced healing that went horribly wrong years ago.  Following the tumultuous events at the end of Aching God, we find the main character from that book, Auric Manteo significantly the worse for wear.  Battling with an evil god will do that to you and what is left of Auric is a hardened, troubled, and aged shell of the man he once was.  

Auric's only reward from that encounter, if you could call it that, is an ancient Djao civilization relic in the form of a sentient sword called Szaa'da'shaela.  The sword speaks to him and often guides him in times of trouble.  It can also be a bit rude and overbearing at times, so Auric picks and chooses the times he wants to communicate or ask for the sword's help very carefully.  It does have its uses though and Auric struggles with trying to harness its power for his benefit.  

Auric's daughter Agnes is now a respected member of the Syraeic League who constantly worries about her father's mental well-being and general state of physical health.  Calloused by the traumatic effects of the devastating plague that almost took her life, she has come out on the other side a much stronger person.  Her main concern is making sure that her father is protected and that he recovers fully from the awful encounter with the Aching God.  She will have other concerns very quickly however, as she and her father are summoned in a strangely cryptic letter to appear at The Citadel before the Third Lictor of the Syraeic League, Pallas Rae.

Upon their arrival, Pallas Rae reveals that a significant threat is about to envelope the kingdom and the only way that this can be averted is by travelling to the distant labyrinths of Gnexes to carry out a secret mission for the Queen. Matters soon come to a head as the Citadel of the Syraeic League comes under violent attack by an angry mob who seem to be under the influence of an enchantment of some kind.  It is now obvious that Auric, Agnes, and a few select Syraeic associates embark immediately on a pilgrimage through questionable towns, hazardous terrain, and freezing cold temperatures to infiltrate Gnexes and carry out their arduous task.  But can they get there in time to avoid the growing revolution that is brewing outside The Citadel's gates?  

I was absolutely blown away by SIN EATER in a way that I haven't been by a book in a long time.  The story raises the stakes from the first book by a number of degrees.  Each character has been changed in different ways by the events that transpired in Aching God.  Auric is much more vulnerable and traumatized both mentally and physically.  His appearance depicting the tremendous amount of pain and stress that he was put through in that desperate battle in the Barrowlands.  The gray hair and stooped countenance hint at a man who has been put through the ringer and is now trying to reclaim some semblance of the warrior he used to be.

Agnes on the other hand has grown immeasurably in the other direction.  She has taken up the mantle of the Syraeic League and run with it.  The fact that she was the primary point of view character in SIN EATER made this book even more enjoyable than Aching God in my opinion.  Another aspect that I just can't get enough of is the creepiness of Queen Geneviva and her feral outbursts.  Not since Pryrates from Tad Williams' Memory Sorrow and Thorn have I encountered a villain with such unpredictability and evil oozing from every pore.  I literally despised her character and yet I kept hoping that the next chapter would center on her.  If you like evil antagonists, this series has one of the best you'll find anywhere.

On top of all of the amazing characters, you have the excellent world-building of a seasoned pro.  Mike Shel's descriptions are vivid and captivating with even more dark and magical locales than in book one.  The pilgrimage to the labyrinths of Gnexes was such an incredible setting and really built up the tension for the conclusion of the book.  And what a conclusion it was!  So many times the second book in a series is simply used to set up the following book.  Shel does not take his foot off the gas pedal though and the ending was so good that I forgot there was more to come.  The ending is one that left me utterly breathless.  

If you are in the mood for an entertaining read brimming with dark sorcery,  labyrinthine twists and turns, villains who are creepy as hell, and a story that will keep you transfixed well into the early morning hours, then Mike Shel's Iconoclasts is the series that you should be reading.  The official release date for SIN EATER is May 20th, but you can pre-order it on Amazon right now!

(My Rating: 9.5/10)


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