The Godless is not Ben Peek’s first published work, but, as his fantasy debut, it is a new step in the Australian author’s career. The Godless is set in a fantasy world where a calamitous war between the gods has left them for dead, or dying. In the aftermath of that world-changing event, the god’s bodies have begun leaking remnants of their powers into the world, creating new Immortals – humans with powers, feared by many.
It is on the literal back of one of these gods that the city of Mireaa, a huge trade city, was built. Much like a cairn, Mireea finds itself in the midst of a siege by a warring neighboring nation which the city may not be able to stop. It is in this setup that The Godless introduces us to its three main characters. Ayae, a cartographer’s apprentice, discovers early on in the book that she cannot be hurt by fire. Buelaran, saboteur, leader of the mercenary company Dark, has been hired to infiltrate the besieging army and cause as much harm as he can. Zaifyr, a man covered in charms, both feared and detested by Fo and Bau, two powerful Immortals living in Mireea, knows more about the world’s history that his apparent young age lets on.
The Godless is nothing but epic, and as the first book in the Children series, with a world and history much larger than can be put into 400 pages, it feels like a book whose purpose is to setup the events that are to come in the following books in the series. It could be said that more important than the besieging army story, it is the characters that Peek here introduces that are the true focus of the book, as more words are spent establishing each character’s backstory than they are advancing the main story forward. However, the strategy’s purpose is made clear as you progress through the book, and it is sure to pay dividends in the proceeding installments in the series when all the threads are knitted back together.
That is not to say that the book does not have its issues. The sudden changes in time, without warning or notice, more often than not ended up breaking my reading flow and forced me to backtrack several paragraphs because I couldn’t mentally place the action in its correct time and place. This isn’t much of a problem later on in the book because you learn to expect these changes, but in the beginning it can become quite tiring. It also doesn’t help that the book is divided in several small chapter, each with a different character viewpoint, which makes it harder to settle into each character’s mindset. Again, this is more of a trouble in the beginning because the characters are new and you have nothing with which to anchor their viewpoints.
In all, The Godless succeeds in what sets out to do: it establishes the world, its characters, and the context with which the later book will work with. While it may have some problems, it is interesting and compelling enough to keep on reading, and by the end of it you cannot but wait to find out what happens afterward.