Only a fool crosses a god.
- WINNER: Pinnacle Book Achievement Award – Best Fantasy
Chosen as a five-year-old orphan to be the Left Hand of Death, Ellaeva has nothing to call her own—nothing except a desire to avenge her slaughtered parents.
Lyram, third in line for the throne, is serving out his exile after the murder of his wife. When the castle is unexpectedly besieged, he fears his prince means to remove him from contention for the crown permanently.
Ellaeva’s arrival at the castle brings Lyram hope, until she reveals she has not come for the siege, but instead to hunt for a hidden necromancer dedicated to the dark god of decay.
Within their stone prison, Ellaeva and Lyram must fight to save themselves from political machinations and clashing gods. But as the siege lengthens, the greatest threat comes from an unexpected quarter.
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In a literary world increasingly dominated by staccato-quick scenes that mimic the haste of films without taking time to build foundations of support, it's a pleasure to see something different in In the Company of the Dead. Some of the most notable fantasy authors create powerful reads with slower beginnings that lead up to a crescendo of gripping action - such as this story, which begins with orphan Ellaeva's desire to avenge her parents' death when she's chosen to be the Left Hand of Death.
In her world (and during the course of her quest) the fine lines between justice and revenge blur, tainting a journey powered by grief and anger. All this is about to take yet another turn when In the Company of the Dead opens mid-quest and introduces new facets to her life's purpose.
Much like the acclaimed fantasy writer Patrick Rothfuss's productions, In the Company of the Dead evolves slowly for the first few chapters. There are maps, a good number of characters who interact with protagonist Ellaeva, a "David and Goliath" feel as forces clash and political and personal concerns become caught in the middle of wider-ranging issues, and several different heroes, including a wandering priestess and a military figurehead.
Fantasy readers who enjoy battle descriptions and conflict will be especially pleased with C.J. Ballintyne's attention to detail as she describes some epic conflicts that embrace romance, ideals, and life purposes after setting the stage for a compelling world packed with realistic medieval trappings and issues that demand its readers become emotionally involved in the characters' concerns.
While In the Company of the Dead is not recommended for leisure readers seeking a quick pursuit filled with more action than thought, it's perfect for the fantasy fan seeking depth, who appreciates a slow build-up before the fiery action begins. Such an audience will find this perfectly fits the definition of an epic saga: sweeping, complex, and ultimately engrossing.
In the Company of the Dead (The Sundered Oath, Book 1) by C.J. Ballintyne opens with a scene in a raucous tavern, where Ellaeva, priestess of the Goddess of Death, Ahura, is getting a crucial lead from her informant regarding her parents’ killer – a Rahmyrrim priest whom she’s been searching for all her life. The information leads her to Caisteal Aingeal an Bhais, the lonely castle where Lyram Aharris, a military genius, is serving out his exile for striking his prince.
Ballintyne’s deep characterizations make you feel for the people she’s created, root for their endeavors, and gasp at their tribulations. I gravitated towards Ellaeva instantly, the enigmatic Left Hand of Death. Lyram, on the other hand, is more fathomable, a man left vacant by the death of his wife, but still with enough rage against his enemies. Is he delusional to think that the nobles are conspiring against him and framed him for the murder of his wife? His closest aides seem to think so. It was intriguing and engaging as I followed Ellaeva’s quest to understand her Goddess’s true intention about Lyram while trying to find her parents’ killer.
The clash of the gods, political scheming, a castle under siege, and a hidden enemy make the premise solid. The action scenes with the element of magic and spells are vivid and suspenseful. The prose is wonderfully evocative and the plot has good twists and is well-paced; the story doesn’t take too much time to unfold, but doesn’t hurtle too quickly to the end either. In the Company of the Dead is an engrossing read, a good choice for fantasy fans who like a meaty storyline.