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The Silent Gods #1

Master of Sorrows

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You have heard the story before - of a young boy, orphaned through tragic circumstances, raised by a wise old man, who comes to a fuller knowledge of his magic and uses it to fight the great evil that threatens his world.

But what if the boy hero and the malevolent, threatening taint were one and the same?

What if the boy slowly came to realize he was the reincarnation of an evil god? Would he save the world . . . or destroy it?

Among the Academy's warrior-thieves, Annev de Breth is an outlier. Unlike his classmates who were stolen as infants from the capital city, Annev was born in the small village of Chaenbalu, was believed to be executed, and then unknowingly raised by his parents' killers.

Seventeen years later, Annev struggles with the burdens of a forbidden magic, a forgotten heritage, and a secret deformity. When he is subsequently caught between the warring ideologies of his priestly mentor and the Academy's masters, he must choose between forfeiting his promising future at the Academy or betraying his closest friends. Each decision leads to a deeper dilemma, until Annev finds himself pressed into a quest he does not wish to fulfil.

Will he finally embrace the doctrine of his tutors, murder a stranger, and abandon his mentor? Or will he accept the more difficult truth of who he is . . . and the darker truth of what he may become . . .

448 pages, Kindle Edition

First published February 21, 2019

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About the author

Justin Call

6 books442 followers
Justin T. Call graduated from Harvard University in 2012 with an ALM in Literature and Creative Writing. He has studied fantasy literature for over two decades and is the author of Master of Sorrows and Master Artificer, Books 1 and 2 of The Silent Gods tetralogy. Justin is also the CEO of Broomstick Monkey Games and co-designer of the games Imperial Harvest, Royal Strawberries, Royal Scum, and 8 Kingdoms. He currently lives in Cedar City, Utah and teaches English composition and creative writing at Southern Utah University.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 642 reviews
Profile Image for Petrik.
654 reviews39.8k followers
April 18, 2021
I have a Booktube channel now! Subscribe here: https://www.youtube.com/petrikleo

ARC provided by the publisher—Gollancz—in exchange for an honest review.

Master of Sorrows a great coming-of-age fantasy debut with promises of bigger things to come waiting to be fulfilled.

For two years Master of Sorrows by Justin Call has been sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read, and that means it’s been two years since my co-blogger—TS Chan—read and recommended the novel to me. My copy of Master of Sorrows has been signed directly by Justin Call when my co-blogger met him during World Con 2019.

I’m thankful for that gift. As I constantly mention, coming-of-age fantasy is one of my favorite tropes in the genre. Master of Sorrows, the first book in The Silent Gods quartet by Justin Call, revolves around Annev de Breth. There seems to be a bit of misinformation or misunderstanding on the official blurb of Master of Sorrows that leads to several readers feeling disappointed. I’m talking about the “what if the hero is the dark lord?” This isn’t the blurb for this book. The author has mentioned several times that this is the theme for the quartet; you won’t see Annev becoming a dark lord in this book, and it’s better to set your expectation accordingly. Also, Call is an incredibly ambitious author; he has mentioned that the The Silent Gods is the first quartet out of three; IF the sales of the series are good enough. That means if all goes according to plan, Master of Sorrows will end up being the first installment in a twelve books series.

“What is it about old books that makes them smell so delicious. Like almonds...or chocolate.”

Back to the actual premies of Master of Sorrows. The Academy of Chaenbalu has stood against magic for centuries. Hidden from the world, acting from the shadows, it trains its students to detect and retrieve magic artifacts. For better or worse, these artifacts are then guarded carefully because magic is dangerous: something that heals can also harm, and a power that aids one person may destroy another. Of the academy’s many students, only the most skilled can become avatars—warrior thieves, capable of infiltrating the most heavily guarded vaults—and only the most determined can be trusted to resist the lure of magic. More than anything, Annev de Breth wants to become one of them. As I mentioned before, this is a coming-of-age fantasy with a magic school setting; a story about loyalty, faith, and choosing our own path. I’ve mentioned in a lot of reviews that a magic/battle school trope is one of my favorite types of fantasy premise to encounter; this is true, and it’s something that I can’t ever get enough of. However, despite containing these elements, Master of Sorrows ended up being at its best when it moves away from the school setting.

I’ve heard from plenty of readers that they DNFed this novel within the first half, either due to false expectation or the book just didn’t click with them. To be honest, I am not surprised at this; the beginning of Master of Sorrows was, in my opinion, by far the weakest part of the book. We’re immediately put into these tests and preparations for the Test of Judgment, but we didn’t get to read enough characterizations on Annev to care about his motivation yet. Harsh to say, but I didn’t find myself caring for him until he started getting bullied. There’s a lot of secret about Annev being kept, and fortunately, once he began asking questions about his own background from his mentor, Sodar, the story gradually improved from there. Annev and his relationship with Sodar were definitely the main strengths of the book for me. Justin Call wrote the apprentice-old master relationship wonderfully, and although there were a few annoying events—Sodar keeping secrets non-stop—they felt like they were there intentionally as a part Sodar’s personality.

“Enjoy what remains of your childhood, because tomorrow will rob us of the things we take for granted today.”

Speaking of intentionally, the relationship between Annev and Myjun was the one thing that I wished was done better. Their relationship felt like reading romance in YA fantasy—I’m not a fan of this—and the direction of their development was obvious from the start. The path of their relationship wasn’t a bad thing per se; it’s actually one of the strong moments of the book. However, if I had cared about their relationship more, the result of their development would’ve been more impactful. That said, I highly enjoyed reading Annev’s interactions with the other supporting characters. Sodar, Crag, Fyn, Therin, Kenton, and even Tosan—I love to hate Tosan—were characters that enriched Annev’s growth as a character.

Let me repeat this once more: Master of Sorrows improved significantly in the second half. Call’s ambitious world-building—whether he can implement them nicely into the series remains to be seen—started being displayed, and we’re only at the tip of the iceberg of his imagination. I’m serious; this is the first volume in a hopefully twelve books overarching series. This might end up having more word count than Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson if the sales of The Silent Gods earn its continuation. Also, Call totally nailed the pacing of the second half with his accessible writing; intense actions—not just battle—and revelations keep on happening non-stop. There was always something going on; character-developments, action sequences, world-building, and Call’s engaging prose made the second half of Master of Sorrows ridiculously compelling.

“When danger comes, it usually comes prepared. You don't get to find your friends and pick your weapons.”

I won’t lie; the implication contained in the title Master Artificer—the title of the sequel—makes me excited to continue with the series. Magical artifacts and weaponry are something I can’t get enough of in fantasy, and this is one of the aspects that Call executed effectively in this debut. And now that I have the ARC of Master Artificer, I will be reading the sequel very soon. My instinct—they’re rarely wrong now—says that I’m going to love the sequel even more. As for Master of Sorrows, it’s a great and addictive debut that started off a bit rocky, but eventually, it landed its footing firmly. I strongly recommend checking out my co-blogger review on Master of Sorrows. I think she did a better job of reviewing this novel than I did. I highly recommend this debut to those who love reading coming-of-age fantasy with a magic school setting. Even more so if you want to know about the character’s journey when they finished their Academy.

You can order the book from: Book Depository (Free shipping) | The Broken Binding (Use my code: NOVELNOTIONS121 for discount!)

You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions

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My Patrons: Alfred, Alya, Annabeth, Ben, Blaise, Devin, Diana, Dylan, Edward, Ellen, Gary, Hamad, Helen, Jimmy Nutts, Joie, Lufi, Melinda, Mike, Miracle, Nicholas, Sarah, Seth, Shaad, Summer, Wendy, Zoe.
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,099 reviews44.1k followers
May 6, 2020
This is a very strong dark fantasy debut that will appeal directly to fans of The Poppy War and The Name of the Wind. It’s intense, mystical and brutal.

The novel is Asian inspired, depicting a fighting academy that has an eastern quality to it. The masters who rule their and teach their ways despise the use of magic and hoard it in their secret vault to protect the world from its effects. They hunt and kill magic users and will gladly slay an infant at birth if they bare the taint of magic. They are an order that appear benevolent but have many dark secrets they hide from the boys they claim to train for the benefit of humanity.

Driving the plot is a strong undercurrent of destiny and dark magic. Our hero (Annev) is being hunted by dark forces. Dark gods want him; they want to use him for the power he can channel. He lives in secret at the academy training to become an avatar of the order. The masters have no idea that one of their enemies is in plain sight. And this made the novel quite tense in points, there were several close moments when Annev’s identity was almost revealed. Such a thing would mean his banishment from the place he calls home. The story took several unexpected directions, so I was certain this reveal could happen at any time.

Fans of The Poppy War will, undoubtably, really appreciate this one. Both novels begin in a training academy, but slowly burst out into the real world as death approaches quickly. I really do recommend trying this if you like R.F Kuang’s writing. Justin Travis Calls’ novel is much darker from the outset, though he uses the school trope just as effectively. And I really liked how quickly the book moved forward, it didn’t mess around as the story constantly developed as more elements were added in. It also contains a very dark and dramatic prologue, which I couldn’t wait to find more about. And when the reveals came, I wasn’t disappointed.

As a protagonist, Annev is the archetypal reluctant hero. He is unaware of his potential. His greatest strength is his ability to question and to think independently aside from the brainwashing that occurs at the academy (similar to Kvothe’s ingenuity.) This allows him to succeed time and time again where he would potentially fail because he has not yet fully come to trust his own physical abilities. It also makes the action quite interesting as the characters begin to work together as a unit rather than as independent warriors. And I think as friendships and trust grows across books, this could become much stronger. He is quite a compelling character, genuine and honest, so it becomes hard not to root for him. It will be intriguing to see what the dark magic he possesses does to his personality as it begins to manifest itself more strongly.

For now though this is the beginnings of a new and exciting fantasy series that kept throwing surprises my way – a solid 8.5/10.

ARC provided in exchange for an honest review.


You can connect with me on social media via My Linktree.
Profile Image for James Tivendale.
306 reviews1,305 followers
May 29, 2019
I received an uncorrected proof copy of Master of Sorrows in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Justin Call and Gollancz.

The narrative begins as we are introduced to the 17-year-old acolyte Annev. He is aiming to progress to the desired status of an Avatar of Judgement in this educational environment. The atmosphere he lives within, the classes he frequents and seminars he attends are to help him achieve this, whilst also being aided by the influence of his guardian Sodar and a varied group of teachers. The issue is that to achieve the status of an Avatar of Judgement, a trainee needs to pass a test simply known as a judgment (or testing day). Annev is yet to pass, although his skills, knowledge and intellect outweigh his peers'. Tomorrow is his last chance. Annev and his two best friends, Titus and Therin normally work together but this hasn't aided any of our trio so far. This is the last chance to become an Avatar. One position remains plus many individuals who already own that status do not wish for Annev or his pals to achieve that sort of recognition. Still... the one final position remains. If unsuccessful these characters will become stewards (little more than servants) to the masters and the avatars and their rights as members of the academy are reduced sevenfold. The fact that Annev will not be allowed to marry his sweetheart is just one example.

In similar fashion to The Name of the Wind, The Magician's Guild and The Poppy War, we have a sort of hero of destiny, an educational establishment, bullies, colourful tutors, and character-defining hardship environmental experiences. Unlike the magic schools of the aforementioned, this is an anti-magic college. The students are trained as warriors (a' la Blood Song) taught swordsmanship, stealth, lockpicking, and other arts of infiltration. Individuals, as an avatar or a master of Chaenbalu, well, their main goal is to find magical artefacts. Taking them from evil individuals who would use them for nefarious purposes or to recoup them from others who are bewildered and unaware of the effects of said rods or magical adornments.

The history of the Gods, in a series known as The Silent Gods, is interesting. It is predominantly presented in a prologue bible-esque fashion at the start of each 'part'. I am normally bored and honestly riled at the nonsense of these sections in fantasy but they worked exquisitely well here. We're introduced to three Gods who were a family. One of which was a hero in how he cared for his family but is criminalised to the world in a sense that is arguably not his fault. Who is the real villain? This ARC had the status "What if you were destined to be the villain" as Jen Lyons' debut similarly stated, "What if you weren't the hero." I dislike taglines like this in both books. So misleading and I guess trying to appeal to the grimdark era of fantasy.

Anyway, one of the finest aspects of this novel is the amazing characters however, my statements about all are not glowing as you will see. Annev is a brilliant protagonist. Sodar is amazing and confusingly mysteriously mentor that a hero of generations really needs. I can happily say that there are about 15-20 brilliantly constructed creations here. Two issues, however. I did not care about anything to do with Annev's love and I believe that is only a tool to see what happens in the next book... and Fyn, although a stunning character, who I liked a lot, and one I can't wait to follow next, his progression did not seem organic. It seemed a bit too neat and tidy to help the narrative's progression.


Annev reminded me about one of my favourite characters in fantasy over the last 3 years, Girton Club-Foot (Age of Assassins). Both are disabled. Both are probably by far the best at what they do but are looked down upon. Especially in this novel, anybody with a disability is known as a son a Keos - who in my mind, is a God who did everything right, but it criminalised. I guess we'll find out more about this in the next two novels.


Master of Shadows - in our world where everyone is scared about where the next read is coming from and when, and hoping we don't have to wait a decade for the next book - works perfectly as a standalone. Yes, I do want to read the next entry and there are about three loose threads that I can't wait to grip onto in #2.

This novel features tragic and sad deaths, utter betrayals, twisty-turny-twisty-turns, phenomenal weapons, and well depicted disabled individuals. The world is gigantic but in this entry, we are mainly focused on Chaenelau and the neighbouring forest. There are many books that this is similar to but in my mind, this is so much better than The Name of The Wind. This is phenomenal. Exquisite. It shows other novels how tropes should be worked to appear new and better than what has come before.
Profile Image for TS Chan.
692 reviews850 followers
October 13, 2020
ARC received from the publisher, Gollancz, in exchange for an honest review.

4.5 stars.

Master of Sorrows was a remarkable debut which I simply cannot put down.

This book recalled so much about what I loved about classic epic fantasy and yet felt modern. The author has quoted David Eddings as his earliest favourite. Having read and loved Eddings' works myself, I can definitely see the influences from The Belgariad in this book; a prophecy, Gods and a coming-of-age tale of a young man destined for greatness. Except, in this case, that greatness may lie in the path of darkness instead of light.

As if those three elements above weren't enough to make me love Master of Sorrows, we also have the school trope in this story. You know the drill. A talented main protagonist trying to advance, but was constantly thwarted by his equally talented enemies, or bullies. School bullies will never go out of fashion – in books, television, movies or the real world. As a reader or spectator, it is always so satisfying when the victim overcomes the abuse, and it is especially gratifying to see the antagonists receiving their comeuppance. I believe that this satisfaction stems from its underlying message, which is one of hope, perseverance and karma.

Overused standard tropes, one might say, though I maintained that tropes existed for a reason; once upon a time, readers enjoyed reading them. The distinction lies in how well-written the story is and how well these fantasy plot devices serve to tell the story. Admittedly, originality is also usually not the first thing that I look for in a book anyway. This doesn't mean that I don't appreciate originality, I absolutely do and it does count when it comes to my overall reading enjoyment. Ultimately though, I gravitate towards compelling and empathetic storytelling. A story that can capture and retain my attention, as my mind takes flight and wanders into the imaginary world with its characters. Master of Sorrows gave me that experience as I devoured the novel in just two days.

Save for the Prologue and Epilogue, the story was told solely from the perspective of Annev, an orphan who was brought up by a priest and mentor, Sodar in the hidden village of Chaenbalu. Annev was an Acolyte of Faith in training to be an Avatar of Judgment of the Academy. These avatars are entrusted by the Academy to retrieve magical artifacts and bring them back for safekeeping. It is for this reason that the village is kept hidden by magic and its existence is practically unknown to most people outside. The hierarchy of the Academy goes up the ranks of Master Avatar, Ancients and the Eldest of Ancients. And all of them will kill Annev without hesitation should his deformity, the mark of the Fallen God, come to light.

The coming-of-age characterisation of Annev was quite excellent in my opinion. His apprenticeship under his mentor, Sodar, had instilled within him moral values which are at odds with those of the Academy that will help him pass the Test of Judgment and become an avatar. As only one acolyte can pass each Test, he may need to betray his friends to do so. His determination to pass the Test was further inflamed by his love for Myjun, the daughter of the Eldest of Ancients. Ah yes, the stupidity that accompanies the flush of young love. I do sometimes feel like shaking Annev for being idiotic when it comes to Myjun. However, even though I typically don't like romance in my books and how silly characters can get when in thrall to romantic love, it is a wholly realistic part of growing up. With that perspective, I think the author did a great job in handling this tricky aspect of Annev's character development.

As much as I disliked the Annev-Myjun love story, I absolutely loved the Sodar-Annev mentor-apprentice, surrogate father-son relationship. This relationship between Annev and his mentor formed the emotional backbone of his story as far as I'm concerned. Without which, I would not have been half as invested in these characters as I was shortly into the book. Annev's character arc around friendships, loyalty and kindness also played a significant role in his character development, and was especially crucial given the dark legacy for which he is supposedly destined.

I have earlier mentioned about the Fallen God. The worldbuilding in Silent Gods was based on the lore of three Gods – Odar, Lumea and Keos - their elements and creations. The elements of the world, quaire or skywater, lumea or lightfire, and t'rasang or earthblood, were each represented by these Gods (in that order). The magic system was then divided into different forms as dictated by the elemental power behind it. Throughout the book, several interludes recounted the story of the Gods and how Keos became the fallen one. These interludes helped provide history and context without having the characters going into info-dumping monologues.

There were also many unfamiliar terms which have been introduced, but not yet explained in this instalment. What I did get out of a specific narrative somewhere in the middle of the book was that The Silent God series will reach epic fantasy proportions. And when there was a Fallen God, there will be monsters. Witches, feurogs and shadow assassins were just a taste of what is in store. The woods that kept Chaenbalu hidden and safe were also strange as shadow-magic can stretch and lengthen the paths to confound travellers. The worldbuilding was fascinating, but at this early stage of the series, its intricacy still quite opaque. Hopefully, throughout this tetralogy, the intriguing complexity will give way to enlightened wonder.

Call's writing style is unembellished and non-distracting, which makes the story easy to read and digest. For a book which was so hard to put down, I also loved the relatively short chapters as it helped me squeeze in lots of reading time throughout the day. The pacing was executed quite superbly, with gripping action scenes which were well-written, showcasing both the agility and fighting skills of the trained avatars as well as the magic of the artifacts.

The climactic sequence was intense, edge-of-the-seat material; it ended on a grim and poignant note, and even with a few rather shocking surprises. The first arc of this coming-of-age tale was wrapped up, but Annev's fateful journey had barely started. Master of Sorrows is a brilliant and riveting tale of having the courage to find and choose one's path, and it left me wanting more.

I recommend this book for lovers of classic epic fantasy looking for a modern voice.

You can pre-order this book from: Amazon UK | Book Depository (Free shipping worldwide)

You can also find this and my other reviews at Novel Notions.
Profile Image for Ashleigh (a frolic through fiction).
441 reviews6,512 followers
February 2, 2021
This book was sent to me by the author. This in no way influences my opinion of the book.

I initially finished this book and thought it to be around a 4.5 rating, but it has stayed on my mind for so long that I finally yielded and gave it a rare 5 stars. It's one of those books that I've been raving about to anyone I come across. I knew I'd enjoy it, but I went into it with the sort of passive expectation of "sure let's give it a go" only to spend the entire time going "THIS IS AMAZING!"

The world building in this book is really something to behold. Heavily relying on mythology, the society we see is constructed from the actions of warring Gods long ago, and the remnants of their attitudes still influence the community mindset now. The mythology itself felt so authentic, with intricate stories of conflicts and moral dilemmas holding the basis of the story. I found myself completely believing it, a sure sign of a convincing ideology at work.

Then we have Annev, very much stuck in the middle of various interpretations of said ideology. On the one hand, he's trained in an Academy specialising in the retrieval of magical artifacts, confiscating them before such dangerous objects can be used. On the other, magic has only helped him through life so far, and his most trusted advisor is skilled with it. Which version of magic is true? It depends who you ask. These conflicting interpretations are the centrepiece to the story, tugging Annev back and forth in his motivations, his life path, his morality, everything. And the frustration of being in that situation, of never knowing quite where you stand, is felt so thoroughly as you read. It really is so easy to sympathise with Annev, and to go along with him as he attempts to navigate such a rocky situation.

The story itself surprised me at various points, and I really couldn't stop reading. I've been a slow reader generally lately, but would speed through 100 pages or so each time I picked this up without really thinking. Not once did I expect the events that happened. Not once did I clearly see where we were going. I just sat and enjoyed the ride, eyes widening with each chapter it seems.

I genuinely don't have a bad word to say about this book. Everything just felt right - the characters, the world, the length, the plot. It's incredibly well crafted, and one I'll be recommending for awhile to come, I know it.

CW: Please note there are instances of ableism throughout this book, as anything even vaguely considered a disfigurement is seen as an indicator of an inherently bad person within the society built here. The main character is missing his hand and arm, wearing a prosthetic throughout and worrying of its discovery. We see cases of ableism acted on, but there is equally a running commentary confronting this prejudice.
Profile Image for Hamad.
972 reviews1,283 followers
November 10, 2020
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Actual Rating: 4.25 stars

“It is wise to fear what we do not understand.”

I am not sure that this review will do this book justice, I fell into a reviewing spiral and it took me many months to finally catch up with all the reviews that I need to write. I read this in May so I forgot some of the details but I did not forget that I enjoyed the book so much!

I am starting with the cover just because my mom commented on how good it looks and she usually doesn’t encourage my book buying habits but she really liked this one. The story inside is not much different. The inside fits the outside.

This did not feel like a debut at all and I enjoyed the author’s writing! I think it is a book that is a production of years of work and it shows. The book literally has my favorite tropes including the magical school trope, a prophecy and the chosen one trope, given that the author added his own touch to those.

The story follows 17 year old Annev who I liked for the most part. Obviously he is a teenager and he does act like one which means some slapping to his face was needed at some points. Read the synopsis for more details about the story itself because I can not describe it as well and because I forgot some of the details.

What I do remember though is that I enjoyed the world-building very much! I think according to what I am understanding is that we barely scratched the surface of the world and the world complexity will increase as the story progresses. The magical school trope is a trope that I will never get bored of, this gave me the vibes of HP/ Nevernight/ Name of the Wind so if these are stories you enjoyed then there are good chances you will like this one!

“Enjoy what remains of your childhood, because tomorrow will rob us of the things we take for granted today.”

Summary: I liked this story pretty much and did not feel it was a debut. The writing is good and so are the characters, the world-building was excellent and the story was engaging! I am not asking for more in a story of this kind! I am definitely looking forward to book 2.
Profile Image for William Gwynne.
325 reviews1,177 followers
June 30, 2022
I now have a YouTube channel that I run with my brother, called 'The Brothers Gwynne'. Check it out - The Brothers Gwynne

Master of Sorrows is a unique and interesting first instalment to the fantasy series, The Silent Gods. It takes place in a setting of a military/educational school, where the students are taught lore, discipline and martial skill. This is something we have seen before, to name Red Rising and Harry Potter as just two, as well as Book of the Ancestor and Blood Song more aligned to the fantasy genre of Master of Sorrows, but it is a trope we love and Justin Travis Call subverts this concept and the readers expectations with it as you progress further into this story.

“When danger comes, it usually comes prepared. You don't get to find your friends and pick your weapons.”

The tone began as overall a bit lighter than I expected, after a very dark prologue. Initially I was a bit confused by this contrast, but it adhered to the personality of our central figure, then dimmed and became more grim and serious in a natural and organic way that mirrored the circumstance and maturity of our perspective, making this quite unique and well-executed in yet another way. It could be called a coming-of-age story, hence the alteration of tone making sense and the story getting grimmer and grittier as the story evolved. A really interesting way to get the reader to relate to the characters whilst also strengthening the gravitas of key moments and momentous events.

Master of Sorrows as I have said takes tropes and then subverts them. Alongside this, there are many new and original ideas, with an interesting exploration of the world and lore through being exposed to aspects of religion, different cults, artefacts that give strength and power in different ways, and so on. Some ideas are in other fantasy books, but not in the way you see here. If you want to read something that has some of those tropes you love, but also want something fresh, original and tense, whilst keeping you on your toes, than Master of Sorrows is the book for you!

“Enjoy what remains of your childhood, because tomorrow will rob us of the things we take for granted today.”

I have to say that the culmination of this story was absolutely fantastic. Not what I was expecting, but in the best way possible. The stakes were raised, the dangers present, and I really felt tense and invested in this story as the final scenes got greater and greater in magnitude and enjoyment.

Master of Sorrows is a really engaging debut to a series that has a lot of interesting lore and a good cast of characters, with the balance of small and large scale politics and conflicts allowing for a range of themes and ideas to be explored whilst also adding heart and attachment to the story.

Profile Image for Justin Call.
Author 6 books442 followers
June 5, 2021
This is my book. I rather liked writing it. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Some things that may be helpful to know about this novel, its accompanying series, and my writing process:

(1) This is crossover fiction – both Adult Epic Fantasy and YA Fantasy. That's a feature (not a flaw); it's meant to appeal to both teens and adults. Tough cookies if you don't like that, but there it is. I tried to write something that both my 13-year-old self and my 30-year-old self would enjoy. I succeeded in doing that, but whether or not the book appeals to you can only be discovered in the reading.

(2) This book doesn't just drop you into things – it eases you in. It gives you time to learn the world and assemble your knowledge of the world like pieces of a puzzle. Like climbing a mountain one step at a time and then clearing the summit. Some people will call that a "slow burn" and then in the next breath will either praise my novel or curse it for that same effect. That's fine. For myself, I never felt like Master of Sorrows was a "slow burn" because the protagonist moves from one challenge to another with only a few small breaks allowing him to process events. The last third in particular moves at more of a thriller pacing ... but I get it. I understand why many have called it a slow burn and I think the comparison to similar books is merited (The Name of the Wind is the most common of those comparisons, which I am flattered by).

(3) Despite marketing language, Master of Sorrows is not actually about a hero becoming the dark lord – because that's the pitch for the *series* (not the first volume of the series). So what is Master of Sorrows? I'll let you decide for yourself, though I've tried to be as honest as possible by saying it is the "origin story" for a dark lord. Enjoy that journey (as ponderous as it may seem), because the series as a whole is about exploring that arc. If, however, you are expecting the main character to become a villain by the end of the first book ... well, let's just say I warned you against that expectation. Perhaps that's a spoiler, but I don't care. I'd rather have someone slightly less excited to read my book than have the grumpy reader finish my book and feel I didn't meet their expectations. I promise if you stick with the series, though, everyone will eventually get what they wanted. Trust in the writing – trust in the trajectory of the story and my ability to tell it correctly with the right pacing – and all will be well.

(4) Master of Sorrows is the first book in a tetralogy called The Silent Gods ... but I have other books planned (assuming that tetralogy does well). In fact, I have 12 books planned in total (three distinct arcs framed within three sets of four books), but I won't get to tell those other stories unless the first tetralogy does well – so if you like these books, please tell your friends, your foes, and anyone else that respects your opinion as a reader. I've noticed the book does especially well with teens and new adults (as intended), but it's also enjoyed by older, veteran readers. Help spread the word and I'll reward my readers with more books. Fair?

(5) I play with tropes in my fantasy novels. In doing so, I try to evoke the same feelings I had when reading classic fantasy from my teens and twenties. I also like to play with those tropes and (hopefully) introduce some new themes that are fresh and modern. That sometimes makes my books a little dark (even a little cynical), but my writing is also tinged with hope. Ed McDonald has called this type of writing "Grimheart" (a close relative of the more nihilistic "Grimdark" genre), and I rather like it. You can call it what you like – Dark Fantasy, Grimheart, Grimlight, Epic Fantasy – but it's all the same to me. I'm just trying to tell a good story the best way I know how, one that pays homage to what's come before while adding something uniquely my own. So far, I think I'm succeeding ... but you can judge for yourself. Whatever you do, don't think for a moment that I'm blind to the tropes I've chosen to use. They serve a purpose and are conscious choices. If you still don't like them, well that's fine. You can't please everybody.

(6) I love chatting with readers, especially those with questions or queries about things hinted at within the series. If you ask me questions about the series, I'll almost always answer them in private (and usually in public, too, though I'll be more conscious of spoilers). It's a joy for me to hear from readers who enjoyed my stories, so don't be shy about reaching out. Likewise, I don't mind being tagged if you write a good review or blog post about my writing. Don't be an ass-hat and tag me for a negative review, though (I'll usually find those on my own and will only choose to read them when I'm feeling especially thick-skinned or masochistic). If you want to contact me about a Q&A or doing an interview or something, I'm also open to those queries. The best way to reach me is on Twitter @Justin_T_Call.
Profile Image for Nils | nilsreviewsit.
303 reviews442 followers
January 11, 2020
Master of Sorrows by Justin Travis Call is the first book in the Silent Gods series, and I’m pleased to say it was an admirable start. This book was very reminiscent of the earlier classic fantasy books that I used to read from such authors as David Eddings. The Belgariad by Eddings was one of my favourite series and I can certainly see many influences from that in this book such as; a prophecy, warring gods and a young unlikely hero. However, Call managed to put a modern twist to the narrative, which I was glad to see. I’d been craving to read something that was nostalgic and charming and this book did the trick.

In brief, this first book tells the story of our main protagonist, Annev; a young orphan at an Academy that trains its students to retrieve magical artefacts which have been outlawed by the religious institution. Under the surface though, Annev hides a secret deformity, he can use forbidden magic, and a prophecy states his coming will either break the world or save it. Which path will he choose?

Although the magical school trope has been used time and time again, I still found this setting and plot extremely fun and entertaining. As Annev faced trials to become an Avatar, which would lead him to be sent on artefact retrieval missions, he faced bullies, betrayal and the infatuation of young love along the way. He also faced a choice between following his trusted and fatherly-like tutor Sodar, or following his own path.

Annev was not your typical perfect at everything type of character; he was naive, angsty, flawed and often goddamn foolish. There were times when I wanted to slap him across the face to make him see sense; especially when he was pining after his beloved Myjun. I’m not a fan of romance in books, so this part of the narrative was not my favourite, but I could see that it reflected the experience of first love. However, there were other times when I was proud to see him think rationally and weigh up his options with some maturity. I felt he was a great rounded character and his coming of age portrayal was done realistically; I mean who hasn’t made mistakes or been naive in their youth?

My favourite parts of Master of Sorrows lied within the world building. Most of the story is told from the POV of Annev, but there was a prologue and other breaks throughout that told the history and religious lore of the Gods. Here I could see fantastic use of Norse Mythology had influenced many of the ideas in the book. There was the Staff of Odar which only the worthy could wield, and the Hammer of Keos which could create malicious creatures. I also enjoyed how the stigma of deformities was reflected in the narrative. Any deformity was seen as a sign of a follower of Keos, the corrupted fallen God, and therefore any person with the slightest impairment was either killed or shunned. I appreciated how all this was weaved into the story and there were no large sections of info dumping.

Overall this book exceeded my expectations time and time again, especially towards the end, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

Thank you to Gollancz for providing me a free ARC in exchange for an honest review.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Adam.
361 reviews155 followers
October 13, 2020
Re-read update: Oct 13, 2020: Since I'm about to start a pre-ARC of the sequel, I thought it would be a good idea to re-read Master of Sorrows to have all of the material fresh in my head. We're just scratching the surface of a story with massive scope in lore, religion, locations, and carefully constructed rune-based magic systems. I was expecting all that upon revisiting this book. What I wasn't expecting was to pick up all the nuance, the subtle foreshadowing and the clicking of so many pieces into place now that I knew the direction the book was heading. In short, this book is well, well worth the re-read. It rewards the careful reader, plus it's the most jam-packed four days of what-the-hell-just-happened fun that a Book One doorstopper can offer.

Original review, Oct 3, 2019:

A lot can happen in a few days. Just ask Ainnevog (just call him Annev), a deacon acolyte in the tiny, remote village of Chaenbalu. One minute, Annev is juggling duties at the Church with his mentor while training for his final shot at passing the grueling Avatar test. The next minute, he discovers he’s being hunted by a fallen evil god bent on destroying his entire bloodline. Annev learns that he is doomed to stay hidden in his village or he and everyone he knows will be annihilated. And if he somehow happens to survive for long enough, it is prophesized that he will eventually break the world. For some reason, this doesn’t have a positive effect on his love life. Poor kid. These predicaments are but a ripple in the tsunami of a story known as Master of Sorrows, Justin Call’s first book of his Silent Gods saga.

Annev is a struggling teenager with no family, raised by an old priest who has mentored him from birth. He excels at his physical challenges while training with the other boys in the town’s Academy, but his altruism is holding him back from advancement. Annev has both friends and enemies, both of which make his life difficult, but this week is his last chance to take a mysterious Avatar test before he graduates. One must be an Avatar to do anything with their life, including court and marry a woman, become gainfully employed, or even leave town. The boys who fail the test become stewards and remain that way for life.

Although there are only three or four days that pass during this book, there are an absurd number of events jam-packed in the story that allows for Annev to evolve and mature in ways that feel earned instead of rushed. Early on, Annev’s cleverness and physical prowess leads to cockiness and immaturity, but as major events are revealed, and he learns more about his place in the world, he starts to struggle with his own morality and loss of control. Some of the strongest scenes in the story are seeing how he teeters between acts of strong leadership and acts of pure malice.

One highlight to note is how Call resolves situations when many of his characters are at odds, and they formulate plans to outsmart each other. But all of Call’s characters are intelligent, so they usually guess their opponent’s intentions quickly, no matter how clever, and it’s gratifying to see that the author gives as much mental acumen to his antagonists as he does to his central characters. This also applies to all major and minor characters in the story; each are treated with care and respect, each are fully developed and fleshed out, and it’s another testament to Call’s meticulous dedication to breathing life and lore into this world where it feels like no area was neglected, and each component of its construction was thoroughly developed.

The lore that supports this story is nothing short of outstanding and echoes Sanderson’s Cosmere universe in terms of history and complexity. Not bad for a book that takes place almost entirely within a small village and its surrounding forest. Call has mentioned that he spends hours on the phone every other weekend with his map illustrator, talking about the layout of his world, discussing the environment, the history of the continent, and the geographic plans for future volumes of the next three to potentially eleven books. I get the sense that Call has written more background history and behind-the-scenes world-building material than the published book we hold in our hands. As this series gains more traction in the years ahead, I could easily see wiki pages, dedicated subreddits, glyph interpretations, and many other fan-created discussion boards attempting to theorize and disseminate all its mysteries.

Reading Master of Sorrows is instantly entertaining, but it also lays the groundwork for something massively rewarding in the years ahead. It is a balanced mix of palpable action, inventive revelations, and flawed characters. It is respectful of the reader’s intelligence and is impressive as it is ambitious. This is the start of a truly epic dark fantasy saga that is well worth jumping into on the ground floor.

9.3 / 10
Profile Image for Nicholas Eames.
Author 9 books5,368 followers
April 6, 2020
I did the audiobook for this one, and loved it.

While a few things tripped me up in the beginning (an occasionally "whining" tone from the main character and what felt like a long "here's what the gods did" exposition scene) I really, really enjoyed this book.

About halfway through I listened to a podcast interview with Travis which I think helped frame a lot things for me. First, the "gods" scene that irked me actually served a very important purpose, because it's mirrored later on from a differing perspective that makes you realize that scripture (surprise!) is an unreliable narrator. Secondly, Travis mentioned that the whole book takes place over a few days, which made me realize (belatedly) that we really don't leave Annev's side from the beginning of the story to till the end. It makes for an intense, intimate story, and while I'm glad not EVERY book does this I certainly enjoyed it here.

The writing itself is fantastic, and the world feels rich with lore. We're given some tantalizing hints as to what sort of epic battles and awful foes lay in store.

The best part for me was the evolution of the main character. While the story spans only a few days, he goes through A LOT during that time, and I'm looking forward to seeing him evolve further in future books. Annev FEELS like the teenage boy he is, which can be infuriating at times (especially when hormones are involved!), but it does the story a great service, I think, to make him this way, because it'll make the person he eventually becomes feel like someone whose character development has been earned tooth and nail.

Also, the narrator was fantastic. Will I be glad when the boys in the book grow up a bit and lose that "winging" tone? Sure. But his voices were amazing and the tone he set was enthralling from beginning to end.

Lastly, bonus points for magic swords, magic cloaks, magic armour, and magic in general.

This book is undoubtedly a slow burn (with an "explosion" at the end), but it's a great beginning to what I think will be a journey worth taking.
Profile Image for Maryam Rz..
220 reviews2,547 followers
Want to read
April 28, 2019
You have heard the story before—of a young boy, orphaned through tragic circumstances, raised by a wise old man, who comes to a fuller knowledge of his magic and uses it to fight the great evil that threatens his world.

But what if the boy hero and the malevolent, threatening taint were one and the same?

Um, THANK YOU???? The hero that could be the villain and the villain that could be the hero is what I need in every. single. book.

Unlike his classmates who were stolen as infants from the capital city, Annev was born in the small village of Chaenbalu, was believed to be executed, and then unknowingly raised by his parents' killers.

This is so messed up, so twisted; it's my special meal, ready to be fully devoured in one huge bite!

Will he finally embrace the doctrine of his tutors, murder a stranger, and abandon his mentor? Or will he accept the more difficult truth of who he is ... and the darker truth of what he may become ...

Will he, indeed?? A total must read!
I mean, can we just talk about the fact that the series' name is so awesome??
The Silent Gods
Yes, please????
So much freaking POTENTIAL!!! I'm anticipating this!

Expected publication: February 1st 2019

P.S. When you're the first review!
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
1,966 reviews1,384 followers
April 2, 2019
Actual rating 4.5/5 stars.

The synopsis begun thus:

"You have heard the story before - of a young boy, orphaned through tragic circumstances, raised by a wise old man, who comes to a fuller knowledge of his magic and uses it to fight the great evil that threatens his world."

But from the very first page I knew this was a book unlike any other I had encountered before.

Many elements remained that are a prerequisite for what I consider a stellar fantasy novel - a complex magic system, a fantastical academy, religious and/or cultural politics, a scheming and self-serving hierarchy - but all this was interwoven with something entirely the author's own.

This is one of the few fantasy novels I have read where magic is a despised element. Usually it is deeply revered and harnessed. Here it is forbidden and neglected. Yet still ever-present. This creates an immediate bond between the reader and the central character, as we are invited to share a secret from the very prologue. This bond was only ever built upon and I felt, very quickly, how ardently I wished to protect Annev, our young, misguided, and foolhardy yet pure, brave, and relentlessly honest eyes into this world.

The town, that much of this novel is centred around, is an isolated one. It is largely self-sufficient and keeps its inhabitants blind to the wider world. Annev's entire life has been structured by the beliefs of the academy's master, who rules it, and much of his misguided notions, of what is right and wrong, stem from his direction. He is fortunate, however, to have another master schooling him. But this other individual is harbouring dark secrets that make Annev question the soundness of his instruction and just what mysteries are lurking in the past of all those around him.

As Annev navigates his way through his final trials at the academy, the political weathers outside of the town are continuing to darken and I am excited to see where they will take him in the coming series instalments.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the author, Justin Travis Call , and the publisher, Gollancz, for this opportunity.
Profile Image for Library of a Viking.
132 reviews1,837 followers
August 8, 2021
Potentially new favourite series?

The Silent Gods by Justin Call has been on my tbr since I first saw the cover for Master of Sorrows. It is honestly one of my all-time favourite covers! Moreover, Justin Call seems to be a super cool guy, so I was excited to delve into this series. So what did I think?

Master of Sorrows follows Ainnevog, also called Annev, a young boy striving to become an avatar. An avatar is a person that goes hunting for magical artifacts and brings them back to the school to be hidden away. Although magic is very real in this world, it is strictly forbidden to use magic. If you are found to possess the ability to use magic, the penalty is a torturous death. Unfortunately for Annev, he is gifted with the ability to use magic. Annev is guided by the priest, Sodar, who seems to be pushing the young boy to reconsider his future and is helping the young boy hide his ability to use magic. Annev is thrust into a difficult path, where he publicly has to honour the school and the rules while privately being a magic-user.

Firstly, I have to congratulate Justin Call on the world-building. Master of Sorrows starts with a mythological story of three gods giving gifts to each other. I found the opening fascinating. Right from the beginning, this world felt rich with lore and history! Moreover, I enjoyed seeing how ‘forbidden magic’ had shaped the world and how rules and customs were in place to prevent the use of magic. Although the reader doesn’t get extensive knowledge about this world, Call hints at more fantastical creatures, lore and uses of magic. It has been a while since I read a book that felt so complex, real, and rich!

Moreover, I instantly connected with the protagonist, Annev. Master of Sorrows is a coming-of-age story where Annev is constantly being trialled and pushed to make a stand for what he believes is right. I absolutely love an underdog story, which is probably why I connected with Annev. Although there is only one main POV, I never felt bored following Annev’s story. I loved learning about the school, the trials, the side characters, the lore and the prophecies through Annev! However, if you don’t connect with Annev, you will probably have a difficult time with this book.

My favourite aspect of Master of Sorrows is the relationship between Annev and Sodar. Sodar is a “Gandalf” character, full of wisdom, understanding and warmth. Sodar is a fantastic father figure, and I loved seeing how he guided Annev through his many challenges.

I can imagine some readers will struggle with the pace of the story. While I never felt bored, Call does take his time fleshing out the character’s and spends a considerable time on the school’s trials. My only minor critique is the love interest between Annev and Myjun. Although the love interest is not depicted unrealistically, I cringed slightly from time to time how immaturely Annev acted around Myjun.

In conclusion, Master of Sorrows is an impressive debut! Call has created a vivid, imaginative, and fascinating world rich with lore, fantastical creatures, and magic! Master of Sorrows is a solid and exciting introduction to a series. If Justin Call is able to expand this world and raise the stakes in the upcoming books, then I could see this series become a potential new favourite of mine. I can’t wait to read Master Artificer now!

4 / 5 stars
Profile Image for Maja Ingrid.
442 reviews126 followers
August 25, 2021
2021 read
This reread took longer than planned but I loved every second of it and I had almost forgotten how dark this book was. And while I'm at it I'm bumping up from 4 to 5 stars.

2019 read
4-4,5 stars

“But what if the boy hero and the malevolent, threatening taint were one and the same? What if the boy slowly came to realize he was the reincarnation of an evil god? Would he save the world . . . or destroy it?” was what caught my interest when this book came. I’ve found I like that kind of stuff. While the book wasn't exactly what I expected, it was certainly a blast to read. And Annev was a gem to follow.

The other characters I also liked a lot. Titus was a too precious little cinnamon roll to deserve to live in a such a harsh place. I love the sweet, innocent and naive characters that you just want to wrap in bubblewrap and protect against all evil. I also liked that Fyn and Annev grew to, maybe not be friends, but accept each other. While I love me some mortal enemies á la Kvothe and Ambrose (I live for those kind of relationship) I also love when that bad enemies grow to be friends. Sodar was your typical old af and secretive mentor. You always love them. I never really cared for Myjun after it showed how brainwashed she was by her father/the academy's belief about people with lost limbs or having scars were children of Keos. I prayed Annev would ditch her ass but knew he wouldn't and it would all end up in heartbreak.

World-building and setting was really cool. A school hidden in the middle of a dark, dangerous forest. Kids stolen as infants to be trained to steal magical artifacts. While it have those common fantasy tropes: magic school and all that comes with that, coming of age story, prophecies about destiny, it's a real fun read. It also made me very happy seeing Eddings was one of Call's influences. While I haven't read Eddings in like 13 years, he's one of my roots when it comes to fantasy.

Also some super random thing, I think the gilded details on the cover is slightly out of sync with the pattern underneath on my edition. Not sure if it was intentional, I doubt it. It gives it a blurry effect, but it also looks kind of cool.

Super excited for book two!
Profile Image for Lucia.
731 reviews798 followers
January 29, 2020
DNF at 26%

(but since I spent 10 days of my life reading that much of this book, you can bet I am rating it even though I did not finish it)

Sadly, Master of Sorrows did not touch the right buttons for me. It all comes down to the fact that this book reads very slowly. Normally, I wouldn't mind if writing is good and characters are fascinating. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Not only main character Annev is boring and super annoying but also there is none world-building. This unfortunate combination made me highly unsympathetic to the story and characters.

Moreover, blurb suggested a darker read and it was not. As far as I read, Master of Sorrows had this almost childish feel to it that is so common for YA fantasy novels and I was so bored by reading it. It took me forever to reach even those 26%. I definitely won't continue with this series. But if you are hardcore YA fantasy fan, you can give it a try and see for yourself - maybe you'll like it better than I did.

*ARC provided by publisher as an exchange for honest review*
Profile Image for Faith.
1,801 reviews479 followers
January 9, 2021
Annev is a 17 year old orphan who has been raised and mentored by the elderly priest Sodar. Annev is enrolled in an academy where the students learn to fight and also to locate magical artificats. They students must participate in a competition. The sole successful student will be elevated to Avatar. The unsuccessful ones become stewards who cannot marry and must spend their lives serving their superiors. The beginning of this book was slow and the actual competition did not start until around the 35% point of the book. This special-orphan-on-a-quest storyline is basically the plot of 50% of YA fantasy novels. Annev learns he has special abilities, he is presented with challenges and he prevails. Nothing new there, but I was interested enough in the world building to keep reading.

In this world you are in danger of being stoned to death if you have magic or are deformed in any way. Understandably, people keep a lot of secrets from each other. I found a lot of this book entertaining (I liked the monsters), but a large part of the book consisted of fight scenes. Whether Annev was in training or he was vanquishing monsters, it felt like there was a battle in every chapter and battles bore me. It was also a little too convenient that Annev always discovered a new ability or artifact to save the day at exactly the right moment. Periodically, the book quoted archives that revealed the complicated history of a bunch of gods. Honestly, I found those interludes pretty confusing. This is the first book of a proposed trilogy. Book 2 is scheduled to be published this year and I might read it.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
Profile Image for Atlas.
667 reviews27 followers
May 14, 2019
Every master has an apprenticeship

* *
2 / 5

The premise of Master of Sorrows was intriguing: a boy missing an arm in a world where those with physical scars and “deformities” are presumed to be worshipers of the dark god, with forbidden magic and a secret quest. But mostly I picked it up because I read a review that compared it to The Poppy War. The Poppy War was a dark, compelling, haunting and disturbing masterpiece. It literally haunts me sometimes. Master of Sorrows was nothing like The Poppy War.

Why had he gambled the certainty of his future happiness on the faint chance that Tosun would allow all three of them to pass?

Far from being a dark, sordid tale of a descent into dark magics and a walk along the confusing and tormenting line of morality, Master of Sorrows reads like a “dark book” for a much younger reader. The main character, Annev, is very driven by friendship and loyalty and love to an extent that it is kind of comical. Annev belongs to an order of religious Masters who live in secrecy and are devoted to stealing and sealing away magical artefacts, which they consider to be tools of the dark god.

Annev’s dream is to become a Master and to do so he must pass a trial. There has been one trial a month for the past year, and he has failed every single one. Not out of lack of skill, but because he deliberately sabotages his own attempts to help his friends (even though only one person can pass each trial!!). One of his friends has no desire at all to become a Master and the other is devoid of any of the necessary skills. Yet Annev deliberately sabotages his own dream to "help" his friends. It’s absurd! It’s infuriating! It reads like a child’s morality tale and it made me want to throw the book (not literally, I listened to the audiobook) out the window.

Great mischief comes from giving gifts

I had zero sympathy for Annev. He refuses to play by the rules and then cries when it turns out he hasn’t found a clever loophole. He rejects the cautions of his mentor, an elderly and wise priest, because Annev knows best and Annev wants to be a Master even though they will literally stone him to death if they find out he has a magic prosthetic arm. Annev wants to marry a girl who literally spews hate about “cripples” and is surprised (Pikachu face) when she is disgusted by him. This boy is a literal moron. Zero sympathy for all his crying fests.

Beyond my inability to find a single thing to like about the protagonist, the plot itself is weird and slow moving. The chapters are interspersed with long, boring recants of myths and sermons. It’s like the author has created a genuinely interesting and cool world and wants to tell you every single thing about it and so crams it all in and thus the book is way longer than necessary and reads very slowly.

I liked some aspects of the book. I enjoyed reading about the trials and the interesting challenges the boys were set – it was like reading a mishmash of some of my favourite childhood books (like Ranger’s Apprentice!) when I really wanted to be a knight or a dragon rider or something. I liked Annev’s friend, Titus, and I was intrigued by the whole purpose and structure of the town of Chaenbalu. But mostly I was just bored and annoyed.

Master of Sorrows could make, with a toning down of violence and a removal of a lot of the excess writing, a great book aimed at ten to twelve year olds. I am surprised to see so many high ratings on Goodreads, but I am glad that others have enjoyed it even when I have not.

Read this review and more on my blog: https://atlasrisingbooks.wordpress.co...
Profile Image for Andrew Rockwell.
114 reviews36 followers
September 30, 2022
3.5 stars—-

I had no expectations going into this one, it sounded like the kind of plot, magic system and world-building I like to read. I was not disappointed. Call has written a great first installment to what I hear will be a big series (10 books, but don’t quote me)? This almost felt like a prologue to a grander epic:
~kind of like Red Rising is in a school setting in the 1st book and the protagonist has to prove himself in order to reach his dream
~but then book 2 takes a drastic turn in scope, complexity of plot and introduces a team of characters around the MC…
= that’s how I see this series playing out as the series gets more installments.

I’m very excited to see where the story goes in the next installment which I will be picking up after the New Year. There was some action throughout, but it introduces the reader to an awesome world with a lot of time to explore it in future books. There were a few scenes/chapters towards the end where you really see the potential of the magic system and Call’s skills in writing exciting action scenes where the characters have little to no plot armor (which is a good thing). This story is a new and fresh take on some old fantasy tropes, yet those same tropes don’t diminish the complexity of the story.
And after reading the epilogue, I think this story is gonna get a lot darker and more epic.

Highly recommend to anyone who enjoys fantasy.
I also found out it’s currently free on Audible Unlimited.
Profile Image for Fares.
246 reviews314 followers
June 24, 2019
I need to gather my thoughts to review this.
Profile Image for Hiu Gregg.
113 reviews152 followers
February 4, 2019
I’ve had my eye on Master of Sorrows for quite a while. The whole concept of a hero destined to become the villain, and the struggle of fighting against that “destiny”… that’s the sort of thing that speaks to me.

But y’know, for a book about a boy destined to become The Great Evil, this is a remarkably relaxing read. There’s a lot of stuff in here that feels familiar, as though it’s pulling from or influenced by classic epic fantasies. And yet it feels fresh. It’s just familiar enough to get you comfortable and just original enough to be enjoyable.

The world is fascinating, and though the book is a little info-dumpy in places, I can imagine a lot of readers will enjoy losing themselves in discussion and speculation about the lore. To simplify things a bit (a lot), there were two gods who cast down a third god named Keos. Through various faux-biblical interludes, we learn that in this world (or at least in the secluded village of Chaenbalu) those who are disfigured or disabled are considered “cursed”, and therefore agents of Keos.

This prejudice runs to the extent that in the prologue, a baby born with no arm past his elbow is sentenced to death. Along with his parents. The baby survives and becomes our protagonist — Annev.

Annev is a very idealistic character. Adopted and brought up by the local priest, Sodar, he divides his time between serving as Sodar’s deacon and training to become a warrior thief — an “avatar” — at Chaenbalu’s academy. He is forced to keep his arm a secret through the use of a magical prosthetic, and in turn forced to keep that a secret because, well… magic is evil. Actually, that seems to be the purpose of the Academy: to hunt down and bring back magical artifacts to be locked up.

But where the Academy encourages individual achievement and almost vilifies friendship (along with everything else, it seems), Annev believes otherwise. Throughout the book, Annev’s sense of right and wrong is challenged, and he has to do some real soul-searching to decide whether to follow his own moral compass or that of his society. The looming threat of his supposedly evil destiny lends a certain gravity to these scenes, and adds an interesting twist to an otherwise familiar coming-of-age tale.

This story is a slow burner. While it is laden with promises of an epic scale, it takes its time getting to that point. We spend a lot of time exploring just what kind of person Annev is, and that pays off with a more satisfying character-arc. The characters as a whole are a bit more Sanderson than Hobb, leaning more to the simple-yet-relatable side rather than more complex and flawed.

In terms of writing, Call’s style is quite relaxed and digestible. It’s very easy to fly through the pages, and honestly I devoured this book in far fewer sittings than I was expecting.

I do have one pretty major criticism, though. While there is a good core of supporting characters, there’s really only one important, recurring character in this book that’s a woman, and she’s Annev’s love interest. Now, there is some in-world justification for this: Annev spends his days either training under Sodar or at the all-boys Academy, so he isn’t really going to run into many women all that often… But that explanation only stretches so far, and does nothing for the readers who expect to see women in their fiction. There is some indication that this won’t be the case in future books, so hopefully this will improve in the sequels.

But looking beyond that, I really did enjoy this book as a whole. I found it to be a wonderful mix of the old and the new, and the ending had me begging for just one… more… chapter. I’m very impressed with Justin Call’s debut, and I’m looking forward to seeing where this series goes.

If you’re a fan of coming-of-age stories, magic schools, and the idea of what’s right and what’s wrong, then Master of Sorrows is the book for you.
Profile Image for Ron Sami.
Author 3 books81 followers
July 2, 2022
This is a fantasy with one storyline and one main character, which has the hallmarks of epic fantasy.

Plot. Rating 5
I think the plot moves at an average pace. The book has a lot of events that happen to the main character and they are all quite interesting. However, it seems to me that the lengthy dialogues significantly slow down the rapid development of the plot.
I liked the density of the problems that the protagonist faces. These obstacles vary from minor to very difficult. In the first part of the book, events take place in a mysterious academy where the protagonist is studying. Although this scheme is fairly standard, many of the plot moves are unpredictable and inventive in important detail. For example, the Test of Judgment is made with great imagination.
In the second part of the book, the scale of events increases dramatically. There are a lot of unexpected plot twists, I would even say that there are too many of them. I had a bit of a mix-up feeling, also due to the introduction of various new characters. However, I enjoyed such hard inverted tropes as Myjun's behavior, the events with Sodar, and the change of Annev himself.

Characters. Rating 4
The protagonist Annev is far superior to the rest of the characters in his elaboration. In his personality, several deep features are successfully and authentically mixed, such as disability, secrecy, chosenness, and what is indicated in the abstract. Luckily, I read the abstract after reading the book. Therefore, I believe that observing the behavior and character of Annev was more interesting for me. His youthful naivety and the conflict between his own moral character and the demands of the Academy are well conveyed.I think that the task of showing a versatile and ambiguous character is done perfectly.
Some of the secondary characters are well portrayed as well. They are Sodar, Annev's friends and rivals at the Academy, Myjun and her father.
However, there are too many characters in the book who are only lightly identified or appear suddenly. At the end of the book, this makes it impossible to sympathize with most of the characters. In addition to being rather empty themselves, they also obscure and alienate important characters from the reader.

Dialogues. Rating 3
Some of the book's dialogues are written in the Young Adult genre, and some of them are too long. The book contains a large number of dialogues that also serve the purpose of demonstrating extensive worldbuilding. Many characters keep their secrets, and I liked the dialogues between them and the main character.

Writing style. Rating 5
It is light and understandable. I think it's very good that the book is written in this style, because it only seems simple and standard at the beginning, but then dramatically increases its complexity in all its features.

Worldbuilding. Rating 5
The book contains an extensive worldbuilding which is revealed gradually. I liked the legends and mysteries of the past, such as the stories of the trinity of elder gods and the resentment of Keos. Further, the worldbuilding in the book becomes quite confusing as many different races appear, the hero uses all kinds of artifacts and contacts with mysterious characters. These characters relate to the protagonist and his eventual mission in different ways. Also in the book there are unusual types of magic and ways to use it. The fight scenes are well shown, including the use of various weapons.
I think the intricate worldbuilding of the book will be more clearly explained in its sequels.

Conclusion. Overall rating 5
I enjoyed the first book in this epic fantasy series, although due to the Young Adult genre, the Academy and the presence of a standard chosen hero, I started reading it with some prejudice.
Profile Image for Mike Everest Evans.
88 reviews186 followers
March 14, 2019
Full review originally posted on http://fantasy-hive.co.uk/

The Good: Destiny and dark magic, a fresh take on time-honoured tropes, a world brimming with history, belief and ideals, action sequences that dare to be different, and a plot filled with secrets and surprises.

The Bad: Bit of a slow burner at the start, and some of the early dialogues felt a bit like exposition (albeit necessary when covering this much world-building), but both are worth the pay off.

The Ugly Truth: A modern take on the classic coming of age fantasies that embraces its roots amongst the likes of Eddings, Sanderson, Canavan and Weeks, and dares to reach for the stars and carve out its own destiny. A fantastic debut in a promising series.

The Review:
When I first laid eyes on ‘Master of Sorrows’ I knew that I had to read it. It’s the type of book that made me instantly mark it ‘want to read’ on Goodreads, follow the author on Twitter, and request an ARC from the publisher (hey Stevie! Thanks for hooking me up!). From the gorgeous cover, to the tag line ‘what if you were destined to be a villain?’ I was sold. The blurb sounded fantastic, and with comparisons to Brandon Sanderson and Brent Weeks (both of which have heavily informed my reading in the past) I was the embodiment of the ‘shut up and take my money’ meme.

But was it worth the price of admission?

The book starts with a one-page prophecy of sorts (an excerpt from a larger tome), then a prologue set in the recent past, then a lore lesson on the world (excerpts from another tome) and THEN the story begins in the ‘present’. This might sound like a lot – and I realise it is, now that I type this – but they are brilliant! Additionally, whilst this seems like a lot of ‘intro’, in my opinion it introduces the rich and rewarding world-building up front, allowing the reader to get much of the epic scope out of the way (i.e. the history, beliefs and how these have shaped the world) so that the focus can be on the story.

The world-building, for me, was fantastic. I picked up on a number of potential real-world influences including Ancient Greece, Christianity, Vikings and China. And despite this being ‘dark’ (the prologue sets the tone, as does the ‘villain’ tagline) for me this was more epic fantasy than grimdark.

With the opening sections out of the way, the reader is introduced to Annev. Annev is a young man with a secret that could get him killed (‘coming of age’). He attends the Academy in Chaenbalu (‘magic school’) which teaches its many students (all male – a problem for me that I will touch upon later) in the arts of magic and artefacts, which it guards from misuse by others. The most skilled students go on to become Avatars – warriors thieves charged with retrieving the magical artefacts before they can be used to do harm.

Annev is an interesting character, and an easy one to get inside the head of. He’s your typical promised one ‘outsider’, the plucky yet reluctant hero. He’s not the strongest, the smartest, nor the fastest, but he is determined. And, most importantly, he sees the world differently. Not forgetting the fact he has magic… something which would mark him as an enemy to the Academy, if only they knew his secret. Annev was born with one arm (it finishes at the elbow) and this alone marks him as an agent of the dark god Keos, a crime in this world, the sentence for which is death. Annev’s priestly mentor, Sodar, saved him from this fate (see: prologue) and provides him with a magical prosthetic arm to hide the disfigurement.

As a student, secure in the Academy (albeit in disguise), Annev’s predicament reminded me of the adage ‘keep your friends close but your enemies closer’, except for the fact that he might not be hiding from the Academy and its Masters and Avatars, but from an even greater enemy…

There’s plenty going on in the first ‘part’ (the book is 180k~ long, and part one of four is around a third of that) but I did feel that it was a little bit of a slow burn. That is in part due to the sections devoted to discussions between Annev and Sodar, his mentor, who question the status quo that the Academy upholds, and explores the possibilities of the forbidden magic that the two of them can wield (or in Annev’s case is learning to wield). Some of these sections feel a bit like exposition, but they are necessary to truly appreciate the depth of world-building and how this impacts on the story and the plot. At the end of part one (and between the subsequent parts) the reader is run through another ‘excerpt’ of lore, before being launched into the much faster-paced parts two, three and four. This is when the story really took off for me, and like with the pre-chapter one sections, the building at the beginning really helped the story set up so that when it got going, it really got going.

However, this does bring me to my one and only major reservation – the presence of female characters. Hiu Gregg has already raised this in his review, and I agree with his thoughts and sentiments. There is only one (and I am stealing Hiu’s words here because I can’t put it any better) ‘recurring female character’ amongst a main cast of males. Don’t get me wrong, the women in the supporting cast are written well, and the recurring character I speak of, Myjun, is well-rounded; but she is also Annev’s romantic interest, which overshadowed her somewhat.

The reason for the apparent lack of female presence is explained in the setting as the Academy’s students are all male. Women do feature in the story, and, specifically, the witwomen are incredibly skilled and strong in their own right, with a very interesting and important purpose separate but joined to the Academy. Yet, I can’t help but think that there should be more women taking centre stage in the story. Especially in part one (a good third of the book), the males get a lot of page time in the Academy, but apart from a chapter or two in which they are joined by the witwomen trainees, the only female to stand out is Myjun, and that is because Annev is infatuated with her.

I have to stress that this reservation isn’t a slight or ‘shade’/’salt’ (why do all these words begin with S?) on an otherwise well-rounded and promising debut; but for those hoping to see more female characters in fantasy fiction, myself included, you might be disappointed in this initial outing. It is key to note that representation of women does improve throughout the book, and there are signs that the author will be tackling this representation in the rest of the series. On this, I for one am more than willing to go with the in-world flow and see where it takes us.

The back-cover states this will be perfect for fans of Brandon Sanderson, Trudi Canavan, Brent Weeks and the Maze Runner. Whilst I agree with all of these, especially Sanderson (Mistborn for prophecy/destiny and Way of Kings for artefacts), Weeks and The Maze Runner, I would additionally liken this to The Faithful and the Fallen series by John Gwynne for his twisted tropes and the purpose of prophecy, and The Poppy War by Rebecca Kuang (R F Kuang), for multiple aspects, including the coming of age / magic school plot, and the dark fantasy vibes.

To answer my earlier question – yes, this book is well worth buying into. As others have pointed out, it’s a classic epic fantasy filled with time honoured tropes, told in a modern voice. Part of me wanted more ‘hero destined to be a villain’ as per the tag line, but I am more than impressed with the way this story unfolded. I’m reminded of ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ and how different the world can be depending on your birth (i.e. where you are born, what you look like, who your parents are etc.), and I really appreciated how these were explored.

Master of Sorrows is an EPIC start to a series with plenty of promise. It’s a nostalgic romp of classic fantasy in a brave new world, which I have high hopes for in the future.
Profile Image for L.L. MacRae.
Author 7 books320 followers
November 2, 2022
Meant to finish this one a couple of days ago, but was too tired to read!

This was a fun, very classic "chosen one plus magic school" type fantasy, though it very clearly turns a lot of it on its head. It isn't a magic school you REALLY want to be in or impress, they aren't necessarily doing "good" things, and the chosen one is chosen for something other than what you expect.

Annev is the protagonist. I did think he was 14 for large chunks of the story until it was clarified he's 17, so that's on me for not paying attention! He does spend a lot of time running from place to place (and backflipping) as well as pining after the the only real female character we meet after the prologue. He makes a lot of decisions, and I'd argue 90% of them are foolish ones! Despite this, he is very compelling, and the world he lives in is pretty spectacular from a magical/ancient/world-building perspective.

I ADORED the world-building of this. Right from the prologue through to the end, the world is shaped by the gods and their creations, and I honestly loved every page of it. At every new part in the book, we'd be treated to a new story or continuation of the history, which was fabulous. Of course, in so many of these stories where the gods make an impact, there is one god that is evil or turns against the others. This story is no different - Keos is the name of the fallen god, and apparently every person who has any sort of deformity or physical disability (I think only physical) has apparently been touched by this evil god, and must therefore be stoned to death.

This backwards way of thinking only seems to affect those in the hidden village of Chenbalu, where the Academy resides. They train boys to become avatars and ancients, who go into the world and find anything magical (which is also evil) to bring back to be hidden away in the aptly named Vault of Damnation. The women of this village go out and find orphaned babies (or simply steal some from unsuspecting parents) to bring back to the Academy. So it's a sort of contained negative spiral.

Annev, our main character, is hiding a physical disability - he has no left hand. Despite being taken into the forest shortly after his birth to be murdered, he is saved by an old priest, who brings him back into the village, hides his missing hand with a magical prosthetic, and helps him survive. Hence we have the typical "mentor" character.

But as with all the tropes of this book, this one too is subverted. I wish we were able to spend more time with Sodar, the priest/mentor/wizard, because he was one of the most interesting characters with an incredibly long and chequered history.

It feels like this book only barely scratches the surface of what the world has to offer. From other locales to visit, creatures (both evil and benign) to discover, as well as learning more about the different sorts of magic and histories of this world, it's an incredibly exciting series!

As other reviews have mentioned, the lack of women characters was noticeable, but I am sure is different in the sequels.

Very well-written and enjoyable (with something so utterly compelling about it), this was a fun read!
Profile Image for Jeremy Jackson.
121 reviews21 followers
May 5, 2019
Man, I needed that. The breath of air you get from MoS is both fresh and nostalgic at once; fast-paced and compelling, it reads like a classic fantasy without feeling derivative. It harkens to Earthsea and Name of the Wind, but its world is wholly original. We glimpse intimations of its grander scope, and the promised twist--that the Chosen One is prophesied to be an instrument of darkness instead of good--is tantalizingly alluded to, but never realized. I assume this development will be expounded on in later installments.

To summarize: relatable characters, plenty of action, excellent world-building, and a fantastic story! I'll be counting down the days to book two's publication.
Profile Image for Émi (Slavic Reader).
372 reviews100 followers
January 10, 2022
I devoured this book in the span of two days! If you are one of the few who saw my tiny 2am review, then count yourself lucky, for it didn't stay up for long in the end.

There's lots to like a think about within this book. It has magic academia/training vibes, the anti-Chosen One and wise mentor trope all served with a hefty sidd of oppression. Oppression within epic fantasy is something I enjoy reading about, especially when it's the oppression of magic as it can often be used as a metaphor for real life. However, Master of Sorrows also deals with themes of discrimination against disability. And as our protagonist falls under both of those categories, we get to follow and root for justice and yearn for him to rise high so he can prove those narrow minded views as wrong. Although Annev is a bit hopeful and naive, it's great to get to follow him before his hardships in life harden him to a tougher man.

There were a few scenes, namely two, that left me open mouthed in shock. Things happening that I wouldn't have even thought of. Did they maybe advance Annev too ahead? Maybe. But were they good, enjoyable twists nevertheless? Definitely.

In terms of criticism, at times I felt like the plot wasn't sure where it was necessarily going. Things didn't fit in together as well as they should have, had the story been polished further. At times there was a lot of conversational explaining which felt more tell than show to me, but a lot of debuts seem to have one form or another of this in them. In the beginning I struggled to visualise a lot of the training ground and architecture descriptions, which were vital for me as I remember novels purely in visuals.

Despite those points, I still think this is a good debut. The world has substance and depth, and feels like it can easily be built-upon and expanded further. The author has stated this book will fall under a larger series so for that reason alone, I'm very intrigued and keen on following Annev and the other characters further. In addition, following that ending, also I'm very interested in continuing! So I'll be seeing Annev again soon.
Profile Image for Melissa.
545 reviews799 followers
April 6, 2020
This book is a captivating dark fantasy, set in a world where having magic is a curse and a proof of evil. There are not a lot of books where magic is prohibited, and I like to read them. Other than the fact I was imagining that Annev was 19-20 years old instead or 17, because let's face it, he knew too much stuff for his age, I have nothing negative to say about this book. It is a whirlwind of action, magic, teens being teens (tw for bullying) and it's SO GOOD.

The second book of this series will be pure dynamite. This one ends in a marvellous opening that let your imagination picture every way this story can go on.

Many thanks to Blackstone Publishing for the complimentary e-copy of this book through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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