The Armored Saint

If you've been following the Hotlist for a while, you have heard me complain that it often feels as though Myke Cole remains one of the genre's best-kept secrets. Not everyone is a military fantasy fan, yet his two series are as accessible as they are captivating. It's been years since I last encountered a fantasy series with so much mass appeal and there's nothing I would like more than to see these books get more widely read and enjoyed. Both the Shadow Ops and the Gemini Cell trilogies were fun, intelligent, action-packed, and entertaining reads. From early on, you could tell that Cole would become one of speculative fiction's brightest new voices. And he did. In this house at least.

Fast forward a couple of years and all six of the author's novels ended up in my SFF Top 10 of the year they were released. Alas, Ace and Headline declined to publish another series set in the same universe, so there won't be any additional Shadow Ops installments for the foreseeable future. It's a shame, as far as I'm concerned, for Cole writes military fantasy with heart and soul. With things pretty much up in the air, though Cole is currently shopping around material for potential book deals, The Sacred Throne, this new fantasy trilogy published by, might be his only speculative fiction work coming out in the next two or three years.

Bummer, that goes without saying. But a new Myke Cole book is always something to look forward to! And yet, The Armored Saint is a totally different creature, which means that it can almost be considered another debut for the author. Indeed, Cole is switching subgenres and it's not just a question of writing a new series set in a new setting. It remains to be seen whether or not military fantasy readers will be willing to give The Armored Saint a shot. Especially since Cole's political posts on social media have already cost him a chunk of his readership. There are other aspects that might make existing fans reticent, chief among them the relatively small size of this new work and the expensive hardcover price tag attached to it. I mean, they may call it a novel, but weighing in at 208 pages makes The Armored Saint more of a big novella or novelette. Regarding the price, the hard copy will be more than twice the price of his mass market paperback releases and for about half the papgecount. In terms of value for your hard-earned dollar, that might scare some readers away. Hopefully not, but these are elements that will definitely play against the author and

Still, this one was billed as epic fantasy/grimdark, which means that it could win Myke Cole a lot of new fans that don't necessarily read military fantasy. Needless to say, I was really looking forward to reading The Armored Saint.

Here's the blurb:

Myke Cole, star of CBS's Hunted and author of the Shadow Ops series, debuts the Sacred Throne epic fantasy trilogy with The Armored Saint, a story of religious tyrants, arcane war-machines, and underground resistance that will enthrall epic fantasy readers of all ages.

In a world where any act of magic could open a portal to hell, the Order insures that no wizard will live to summon devils, and will kill as many innocent people as they must to prevent that greater horror. After witnessing a horrendous slaughter, the village girl Heloise opposes the Order, and risks bringing their wrath down on herself, her family, and her village.

First of all, it must be said that this is not grimdark. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Not sure where that claim came from, but it is totally false. No matter from which angle you look at it, and regardless of what can ultimately be considered grimdark or not, The Armored Saint just isn't grimdark. Nor is it truly epic fantasy, at least not this first volume. True, there are elements that, if built upon, could become so down the line. Though the size of these novels (if subsequent installments are about the same length at this book) might preclude their ever being considered epic fantasy. Not sure who applied these labels when the marketing for The Armored Saint began and it probably doesn't matter at this point. It's more dark fantasy than anything else, if you ask me. It will be interesting to see what the two sequels bring to the dance because this one is more of a brief introduction than a stand-alone work.

The worldbuilding was compelling and showed a lot of promise. Sadly, Cole played his cards way too close to his chest and didn't elaborate on most concepts and ideas that he introduced. Given the novelette-length of this work, one has to wonder why this is the case. I mean, a few more pages and more information would have elevated this tale to another level. Of course, forthcoming installments may do just that. But it makes me wonder why so little was revealed in The Armored Saint. The more absorbing the first volume, the more chances are that readers will line up for the sequels. The premise is simple enough. The backdrop for Heloise's story is a pseudo-medieval environment in which everyone is living under the yoke of an oppressive empire whose rule is enforced by a religious order bound by the Emperor's Holy Writ. Suffer no wizard to live. Such is the Order's most important rule. Simple and straightforward, or so it appears. Yet I would have liked to discover more about the Emperor, the Palantines, the Order, with its Sojourners and Pilgrims, the war in which Heloise's father and other villagers fought in, the war-machines inside the vault, etc. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be.

In terms of atmosphere, the overall feel made me think of Jeff Saylards' Bloodsounder's Arc and Brandon Sanderson's early works like Elantris and the Mistborn series. Regarding Sanderson, the resemblance has more to do with the fact that everything is more or less black-and-white and not with any of the storylines. This was a bit of a disappointment for me, as Myke Cole usually writes in shades of gray and there is always more than meets the eye. Another inspiration has to be the Warhammer 40,000 books and universe.

I'm surprised that very few people mentioned this, but the writing is clearly YA in style and tone. And a bona fide YA effort à la Suzanne Collins, not something an author wrote, toned down and dumbed down a bit, hoping to appeal to a younger readership. My question is: Why not mention this? Afraid of the YA stigma? I mean, this is the most lucrative market out there for speculative fiction writers, so why not try to pitch this one to the appropriate audience? It would make perfect sense. Perhaps because of the budding lesbianism found in this tale? I have no idea. In the end, this explained why The Armored Saint lacked all the shades of gray and substance that has made Myke Cole one of my favorite SFF authors writing today. Too black-and-white and straightforward, it doesn't deliver the way Cole's novels habitually do. Still, I'm persuaded that this could be a huge commercial success if they could tap into the YA market.

Heloise started off as a simple village girl who is forced to overcome great odds to become the heroine of this book. Her heart is always in the right place and she means well, but I do have a problem with her. Like most teenagers, she lets her emotions get the better of her and that puts her into problematic situations. Trouble is, Heloise's well-intentioned stupidity and headstrong stubbornness have cost the lives of two of her closest friends, and her actions have destroyed the lives of everyone she has ever known. True, she has shown valor and bravery. But that doesn't mean much if it ends up costing the life of everyone who has ever been dear to you. Especially given the fact that she's responsible for everything that took place. Loyalty, forbidden love, and friendship are themes that are explored throughout The Armored Saint, and I'm curious to see where Cole is going with this story.

There are no pacing issues. The novelette format precludes pitfalls such as massive info-dumps and the rhythm keeps the tale moving at a good clip. Unfortunately, the ending was telegraphed by the midway point of the book, which made the endgame quite predictable. This was disappointing, as Myke Cole usually keeps readers guessing till the very end.

When all is said and done, The Armored Saint was little more than a short introduction meant to establish the premise and the characters. Time will tell if the upcoming installments will elevate this trilogy to another level of originality and quality. And though I may not have enjoyed this one as much as I wanted, experience has taught me to never to bet against Myke Cole and I'm curious to read the second volume.

The final verdict: 7/10

You can read an extract from the book here.

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

2 commentaires:

Spaz said...

"There are other aspects that might make existing fans reticent, chief among them the relatively small size of this new work and the expensive hardcover price tag attached to it."

^^^So much this.

Even on the strength of his previous work, and that I enjoy his social media presence, I still almost didn't pre-order. I did do so, but a lot of others won't. I really hope to enjoy it.

Levi Standaert said...

Huh, did not expect this at all. Odd choices were made it seems.