„We are the Dead“ tells the story of a country which is invaded and occupied by its northern neighbour who the Jia highly underestimated. In chapter 3 the invasion starts, the book picks up speed and doesn’t slow down till the very end.
At the beginning of the book there’s a map illustrating the country of Jia with Egris in the North. Having maps at the beginning of a book seems to be quite common in fantasy books. More often than not I simply ignore those maps but with „We are the Dead“ I frequented the map quite often as the different chapters are located in different places and told from different points of view.
The first chapter starts with the perspective of Tinnstra, who is my most favourite character. She’s not the common hero but seems to be the scared rabbit that runs away from trouble and fight at the first indication of such. Her character development is huge and Mike Shackle manages to draw a really realistic picture of her actions and her development and reasoning. With a little white lie the scared rabbit turns into a lioness fighting and protecting her cub. Other reviews claim that they didn’t like Tinnstra at the beginning. I fell in love with her straight away.
Also the other characters in this book evolve nicely. For example Dren. I liked him at the beginning, then I could have killed him and finally ended up liking him again.
The author posted on twitter „[…] it’s obvious who the bad guys are.“ Of course it is obvious that the invading Egril, who possess dark and evil magic, are the bad guys. BUT the good guys aren’t so good either. The Shulka, the elite warrior force of Jia, are a bunch of arrogant fools who are stuck in their own roles and don’t look sideways. It took me a long while to get to like them or at least understand them and their code of honour. Also the different clusters within the rebel groups of Jia paint a very modern warfare picture. There are suicide bomber, guerilla warfare and even someone who tries to defeat the Egril with „real“ warfare tactics. To succeed they need to work together though.The book is dark and full of terror but mostly it is not too explicit just for cruelties sake. There’s war, there is terror, there’s fear, there’s torture but it’s always plot related and there is always hope. On the cover it says „Likely the next Game of Thrones“ but in this book there isn’t much sexual violence which I think is a huge plus. And the bit that’s in there isn’t drawn out and described in detail. The only rape attempt fails and *spoiler coming* ends in the death of the would be rapist.
The book is very fast paced and sucks you into its world straight from the beginning.
The book isn’t simply another fantasy story. It’s a book about friendship, religious fanatism, taking responsibility, overcoming ones fears, hope, love for your family, country and fellow people and it shows what we humans are capable of in dire situations.
To be honest it took me while to pick up this book. And you want to know why? Because of the cover. The cover shows an Egris skull mask and that in combination with the title „We Are The Dead“, a line taken from the Shulka prayer, makes it appear very dark and gloomy and masculine. So it really came to me as a surprise to find so many strong female protagonists, who I grew really fond of. It most definitely is a book that speaks to female readers at least as much as to male readers.
I really enjoyed every second of reading and can’t wait for the next volumes to follow.
The paintings of Tinnstra and Dren were sent to me by Mike Shackle and published with his permission. The map, copyright by Lee Harrison 2019, can be found in We are the Dead by Mike Shackle, published in 2020 by Gollancz, ISBN 9781473225220. The shown book is my self bought copy and all photos were taken by myself.