The Dread by Gail Z. Martin, sequel to The Sworn, is the second book in The Fallen Kings Cycle and another example of the recent rise in duologies over trilogies. This cycle tells the continuing story of King Tris Drayke after The Chronicles of the Necromancer series as he struggles to protect his burgeoning kingdom from a threat from across the northern sea.
A fantastic transition from young adult to adult fantasy
I’ve felt all along, while reading Gail Z. Martin, that she seemed torn between the desire to write relatively simple young adult fantasy and more mature adult fantasy. As I read more of her work, I’m becoming more inclined to think that she’s doing this on purpose and, in so doing, filling a niche that could really use some more depth.
Her characters are interesting and well developed, though they still lack the truly deep internal awareness and gradual development of those of, say, Guy Gavriel Kay. Instead we see some occasionally jarring shifts in attitude. That said, they do still push deeper than true YA fantasy tends to, providing a segue that will encourage teen readers to broaden their horizons.
A compelling world with a unique magic system
The main characteristics of Martin’s world are the substantial presence of ghosts in the world and the power of necromancy. The spirits of the departed are something everybody in this world is aware of and generally okay with. Family ancestors hang around to watch over the later generations, sites of major battles or massacres are rife with the angry dead, and the intercession of necromancers to help those who wish to pass on makes for a fascinating culture.
Hero and ancestor worship is a common trend in our history and mythology, but when you can go to a place where the spirits of the kings of old are just hanging around for a chat when necessary, it provides a lot of great chances for plot and world development. Martin capitalizes on this wonderfully. Add in the attendant power of necromancy as a form of magic, and then give that same power to the villain of the series as well as the hero, and you set yourself up for a battlefield where the dead fight alongside the living, making the stakes even higher.
Vampires! But not the crappy sparkly kind!
Another great piece of Martin’s world design is the presence of the vayash moru, Martin’s version of vampires. They have a lot of the more traditional standard vampire characteristics: they drink blood, can’t be out in sunlight, are preternaturally strong and fast, and, of course, are tolerated (at best) by humanity at large. They form a lot of the socio-political plot in Martin’s books. They almost universally live off animals and not humans, and have an uneasy peace, but serve as the scapegoat for anything serious that goes wrong. Drought? Missing children? Mysterious murder? Blame the vayash moru.
This really allows Martin to make some great statements about society and intolerance, showing the hypocrisy inherent in happily accepting someone’s help when it is convenient, then spurning them at the first sign of trouble, which is a very important part of developing your young adult reader into an adult reader. This vehicle for encouraging some critical thinking and analysis is almost as positive as the fact that they don’t brood or sparkle in sunlight.
Why should you read this book?
You should read this book because Gail Z. Martin is a solid writer. She has a firm grasp of pacing, suspense, character development, and plot. While I might say she isn’t doing anything particularly unique or groundbreaking, that isn’t always called for. Sometimes you just want to see an exemplar of the genre, and Martin provides that in spades.
If you’re in the market for a traditional fantasy story, excellently told with relatable characters, compelling action, and a solid plot, then The Fallen Kings Cycle is for you.