“If one suffers, I suffer. If one is chained, I am chained.”
My faith called me to become a Lance. My compassion drew me into one of the fallen lands. Through my connection with the Chained God, I alone can find and destroy the Horror that stains the land.
Death can no longer chain me.
But I couldn’t have imagined the madness waiting for me in this village. I’m not sure my faith can withstand the secrets I’ll uncover. Or that my compassion can survive the violence to come. This Horror may swallow me whole.
Death can no longer free me.
A creature stalks in the dark. Buildings burn. People die. An altar has been built on the village green.
As an avid Bloodborne...addict, this was one of the best books I've read in 2021. I'm not exaggerating, this book made me feel...things.
At times, it felt as though Nathan Hall had written this book specifically for me. Admittedly, that thought is a bit creepy, but...somehow that book was exactly what I wanted it to be.
The prose is exquisite (truly), the world-building while definitely inspired by the Dark Souls games is unique, and the atmosphere, oh the atmosphere...
I breathed this book! I lived this book.
It's rare, at least now that I'm an adult and my brain is racked by the constant reminders of endless responsibilities, that a book simply absorbs me.
I didn't want to look up, I didn't want to stop!
The pacing is...a bit like playing a Dark Souls game. You have to work for it, but the payoff is absolutely worth it. This isn't a book to be devoured in a few hours, it's to be relished, slowly, while sipping something warming.
The only slump I found noticeable was shortly after the halfway point: the pacing had slowed, my initial excitement died down and just for a brief moment, I found myself...dare I say, struggling?
By that point the protagonist had died a dozen times and was one or two deaths away from being consumed by madness, and it occurred to me that perhaps...perhaps Nathan Hall had slowed the pace on purpose.
Right at that point, my mindset mirrored the protagonist's. Frustrated, itching to try again, itching to succeed. Onwards! What a book!
Whether you're a fan of the Souls games or just like dark atmospheric fantasy, do yourself a favour and give this one a try.
To be honest, I’ve put off writing this review. I know that’s a terrible way to start anything like this, but it’s true. I’ve put it off. Why, might you ask? Because in some ways I don’t feel like I have the required experience I need to fully appreciate the story being told.
Let me elaborate.
I’m not a video gamer, and I think that’s where I’m having the biggest problems here. I’m just not. In fact, I actively avoid them. It’s not even because I don’t like them. Some of them have really cool stories (my husband is a big gamer and he often fills me in on that), but I can’t even watch someone play them because they make me intensely motion sick (I’m weird). So, when I say I don’t like games, I mean, they make me physically ill. Something about the motion on the screen just flips my switch and I end up vomitus. So here’s a book based on a video game, and I am a person who literally hasn’t even SEEN a video game in so many years, it’s ridiculous.
There’s a lot of elements in An Altar on the Village Green that, while I was editing, Nathan sort of educated me about how they tied into Dark Souls, the game this is largely inspired by. I think maybe if I had even a passing familiarity with the fact that Dark Souls is a thing that existed in the world, I would have probably appreciated some of these elements more. For example, the protagonist, Lance, is never physically described or given a gender or name. He told me the reason why he did this was influenced by how characters are presented in games. I had no clue. Zero. And I really thought how he crafted Lance in that way was really, really well done and pure artistry. I just absolutely never would have picked up on it unless he told me.
What I’m saying here, is a lot of the reviews for this book in the future will probably wax poetic about gamer inspiration and how various plot points were a twist on (insert thing here) and you won’t get that with me. The entire aspect of this book that marries fantasy storytelling with videogame elements is going to be completely missing. There is an art in how Hall paired those two, and I’m sorry that those aspects of the book flew right past me.
So, while we have now examined what I lack, let’s talk about the book itself, shall we?
This isn’t your typical fantasy book. The pacing isn’t what you’d expect, and neither is the plot. Hall doesn’t follow typical markers for storytelling, and instead blazes his own trail. There are elements of expected epic fantasy here, like the world in peril, but that’s about where any similarities ends.
In fact, let’s talk a bit about the world being in peril, shall we?
Most epic fantasy I read involves empires, either the rising or collapsing of them. Hall takes the concept of a world in peril and makes it his own. Out there, beyond the city where the book starts, are Horrors, which, in my mind, sort of operated like an infection. The Church’s job was to send out specially trained Lances to go and battle these horrors, cleanse areas of them, and purify them so the people trapped in this cycle of Horror could finally pass on to whatever comes after. They are essentially battling for souls, and for the world itself, one place, one person, one village at a time.
Lances didn’t work as armies, but in solitary numbers, or sometimes two would run into each other. It was a horrible, dangerous task to do this, because each time you die, and the longer you spend out there, the more the Horror infects you. Names of Lances who have battled Horrors are celebrated. They become heroes, but you don’t really see the truth of the (often dark) truth of these stories until our Lance dies, and relives them before rebirth.
The Church, however, hasn’t had a functioning Lance in years and years, and the Horror is spreading. So, our protagonist, who starts out as Page, turns into Lance in the first few chapters of the book, becoming the last lance in the church, the only one left, is sent out into the world, toward this one town, to go battle the Horror there. Instantly readers understand not just how much is riding on Lance’s shoulders, but how this church is a crumbling edifice, and how they are losing the battle against the encroaching Horror.
Part of Lance’s story is a mystery. In order to defeat this Horror, Lance has to learn what it is (it manifests differently everywhere). However, each time Lance dies, they get a little more infected by the madness, and by the visions of previous lances battling their own Horrors, until slowly, as Lance’s sanity is slipping, this dream world experienced between rebirths becomes nearly a real and vivid as Lance’s own reality. Reality, in Nathan Hall’s hands, is just as slippery as morality.
A lot of this book is spent dealing with incremental steps forward, followed by crushing defeats, towards an end goal Lance doesn’t even really understand until pretty close to the end of the book. There is an altar in the center of this village, where Lance’s god’s blood (ichor) is pooled. It’s this ichor that allows Lance to heal from injuries (which is agonizing), and it is also the point where Lance’s rebirths happen.
I will say, this book is heavy on the details and nuance. You can’t read it with partial attention. It demands your entire focus, or I guarantee you will miss things. And the pacing is unique to this book. While it works, and it works well, I think some readers who are more into sweeping story arcs and obvious signs of forward momentum toward a clear goal will likely find this book frustrating. So much of what happens here is below the surface, and while that sort of thing really gets me going, I know it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so be aware of that before going in.
The worldbuilding is done well, but like the rest of the book, choices were made in how it was done that cause it to be one of those aspects that is unique to this story alone. A lot of the worldbuilding happens in these flashes, these visions Lance has after a death. These visions are woven throughout the book like short stories, and while they show what other Horrors in other parts of this world are like (some are absolutely bone chilling), they also show what being a lance was like for others and allows reader to see the wider world in fits and starts. Furthermore, there are lessons in these visions that Lance uses almost like touchstones throughout the book to bring them further to the ultimate end goal.
In some ways, An Altar on the Village Green reminded me a bit of those closed-room books, where some big murder or mystery happens, and everyone is locked in this room together, so you have to figure out who done it. The Horror isolates these infected places from the rest of the world, and from time itself, so everything that happens there happens on a loop, and time and place, fundamental details, lose all meaning. As Lance starts putting the pieces of what is happening together, I really began to realize how well Hall was playing with how to tell a story. By liberating these Horrors from the root of time and place, he gives his book more freedom to expand in its own unique ways, cutting it off entirely from how things are typically done. This gifts him with the liberty to explore his own storytelling art, unfettered, while he sinks deep into the mire of this one smaller catastrophe lost in a world of tragedy.
There is a lot of action in this book. There’s hardly a moment where Lance isn’t battling something, or making impossible, hard choices, or doing improbable things… or dying. It’s a dark book, epic fantasy in the fact that the battle is epic involving the world itself, and souls, and all that, but also horrific due to some of the creatures, moments, themes, decisions therein. Morality, and the decisions that define morality, play heavily in this book. And yet, Hall’s prose brings you through it with ease, painting vivid pictures of poignant moments, and making them matter. He never once loses that menacing undertone that threads the book, or the tension that seems to overshadow everything, or the religious, ardent zeal of Lance to save.
An Altar on the Village Green is an ambitious debut novel, full of layers and meaning, depth and texture, dark moments, and moral quandaries, all poised perfectly on a knife’s edge of grace.
This is unlike any fantasy you’ve ever read before.
This was one of those books that I hit pre-order on as soon as I’d heard about it. I’m only peripherally aware of Dark Souls which is a large inspiration for this book (although now I’ve finished the book, I’m tempted to find a playthrough), but between the blurb, seeing the author talk about it and share snippets, and that wonderful cover art, I wanted this book. I also had the joy of realising it came out sooner than I was expecting, and I was counting down the days, and oh boy I was not disappointed.
This was a hard review to write for several reasons. One of those is that Hall takes a unique approach to so many aspects of his storytelling, that An Altar on the Village Green cannot and should not be pigeon-holed – this is also one of the things I loved most about this book because it felt so different. There are familiar aspects of fantasy and horror, signposts to keep you on the path, but this is not a direct march to the city gates but rather the scenic route on unfamiliar and dangerous paths, where the slightest stumble could be the death of you… or leave you adrift because it should be noted that this is a book that demands your attention. Needs it as much as our main character needs the God’s Ichor because there are so many details, and threads, that if you lose focus for even a minute you will miss something vital.
Another reason and one of the main reasons that An Altar on the Village Green is challenging to review is that it is hard to truly get to the heart of everything that this book is, especially without spoilers. And I would not want to spoil this book for anyone, because this book was an EXPERIENCE and one that I could never do justice to with a review. You need to read An Altar on the Village Green to truly be able to appreciate what Hall has created within these pages, to lose yourself in the Horror alongside the characters, to hold your breath when the darkness and tension are drawn to a knifepoint, to question…well everything that makes us human. As much as this book demands your attention on what is happening in the pages, it also makes you think, makes you question…
…and makes you realise that sometimes there are no easy answers. No good choices.
There was so much to love about this book. I have to start with the writing though. An Altar on the Village Green practically oozes with atmosphere, the darkness, the danger, the possibility of everything crumbling away is there in every moment – a shadow in the background even in the moments where hope and human connection of are a flickering candle flame trying to keep it at bay. It lurks. A constant awareness, that has you on the edge of your seat and holding your breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop. The writing is exquisite, from the vivid descriptions that left it feeling as though you were there with the Lance, feeling the flames against your skin, the burn of injuries, as though your mind was on the edge of falling apart, to the sheer emotion in the quieter moments, in the memories. Against the menacing atmosphere, and the horror of the world, this was an incredibly poignant, human story and Hall allows us to feel it all.
The pacing was somewhat unique with this book, and it is one of those choices that is perfect for this book and in Hall’s hands but would not work in so many cases. This was a story, that was rooted in experience, rather than time or place and that meant pacing was almost fluid – because it wasn’t about the passing of time, or getting from one place to another as you might expect in a ‘typical’ fantasy. It was about finding answers, about failing and failing again to learn more, about the Horror and about the Lance (and yourself). There is no clear goal – in fact, our Lance does not know what they have to do until right near the very end, and there was often the feeling of one step forward and two step forwards, and that might frustrate some readers. However, Hall knows exactly what he is doing, and so much of what is gained and learned, is in the details, and beneath the surface, in the questions asked and the emotional fallout, and it’s like the slow, steady erosion of rock beneath waves and it’s just beautiful to experience.
That isn’t to say that there isn’t a lot of action, because there is. So much of the conflict within this book is emotional, mental and moral, but the very real, physical danger is just as present. There are very few moments where something isn’t happening, from fighting – and the variety of the fights, and the fluidness of events through the Lance’s choices meant that it was always different and that you could never trust that you knew what was coming next. There were the choices, which were a different but often more potent form of conflict, even if it was largely internal, because Hall’s world is dark, and the choices were never easy, never kind – and they were the kind of choices that force you to question everything about yourself. And there was the dying…and all of it was just so exquisitely crafted.
This was also true of the world-building. While we are given a sense of the scale of the world, and the threat the Horrors pose to it in the first few chapters, however, it is through the visions that the Lance receives after dying that truly let us delve into the true depths of what the Horrors can be, as well as see more of this world that Hall has created. The variety of those locations and Horrors was breathtaking, and I was in awe of Halls imagination and ability to bring them to life in relatively short flashes – and some of those visions are truly chill-inducing, and it didn’t matter if you were still reeling from what had happened to our main POV, you were instantly caught in each individual Horror. The idea of the Horrors themselves was fascinating, and I liked that we don’t know everything about them, it adds to how terrifying they are, these scenarios that trap everything and everyone in a singular place or time, to be repeated over and over until the solution can be found. Here again, is where those details and the need to focus are so important because it’s not the time and the place that are important, it’s the tragedy within the horror, it’s the choices to be made – both wrong and right, moral.. and so grey, that it sometimes feels like it should be shades of black – that truly brings all the aspects of this book together.
Another aspect I like is that our Lance is never given a name or even a gender, and yet they are our POV for the most part. It’s their heartbeat that drums in our ears, their terror and pain that sets worms churning in the pit of our stomach. We don’t know what to call them beyond their calling and rank as a Lance, and yet we as the reader are so deeply in their thoughts and emotions, that it feels that we know them inside and out, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been so deeply struck by a character before which is a testament to Hall’s skill.
An Altar on the Village Green was an absolutely fantastic read, even when I put it down to work on other things it was there in the back of my mind, begging me to pick it up again to find out what happened next. It was as though I had been as sucked into the world of the Horror as surely as the Lance was, and I have to say I had very little resistance to picking this book back up to finish devouring it. I loved every dark, skin-crawling, thought-provoking moment of this book, and I cannot recommend An Altar on the Village Green highly enough.
An Altar on the Village Green is an unusual dark fantasy with a unique premise that's well worth trying. I picked this up after seeing it mentioned a few times on Twitter but without really knowing anything about it, and I'm glad I did.
Horrors have taken over much of the world. Appearing from nowhere, Horrors infect villages, towns, even whole countries, ravaging and killing the people who live there. Then, these fallen lands and the people killed there are forced to relive the horrors and their deaths over and over again. The only ones who can oppose them are the Lances of the church, trained and equipped to find and kill the Horrors at the centre of the fallen lands. But the church has been losing, the Horrors spreading, and the Lances have failed.
The story begins with one last Lance sent out to face a Horror and cleanse the fallen land it has infected. In an epic fantasy, we would know where this story was going, with our new hero sweeping through the land, throwing back evil and saving the world. But this is a dark fantasy, and things won't be that easy.
Once the Lance enters a fallen land, they are trapped there until they can defeat the Horror or succumb to madness. This first book of the Chained God series sees our Lance entering a village plagued by a monster that demands the sacrifice of children, one each night on the titular altar on the village green. It's a village driven to madness as brutal groups scour it each night for children to sacrifice to the Horror and so save their own lives for one more day.
The Lance finds himself in this terrible village, desperately trying to save the innocent from their brutal hunters and defeat the Horror. Each time he fails and dies, he is reborn at the beginning of the cycle and has to do it all again, searching for a way to survive and end the Horror, all the while knowing that the people of the village are long dead, and that he can't really save them. All he can do is try to mitigate the brutality of a single cycle, while desperately trying to find a way to defeat the Horror.
Some people might find this book too much. For myself, I didn't think it was gratuitous within the context of the premise of the story, but I do think that a story that involves the death and sacrifice of children and the main character going through repeated, painful deaths won't be for everyone.
I thought this was an excellent story, very well handled, and with a lot of tension and pace. I had a few quibbles. Most of the story involves the Lance on his own, not interacting meaningfully with any other characters. That makes it quite an internal story and with a bit of a singular mood and pace. I often didn't visualise the surroundings very clearly, and in my mind's eye, I always saw it as night, even in scenes that were in the daytime. This is because the story is much more focused on the mood and the thoughts of the main character than on the specific setting.
The structure of the story can be a little bit computer game-like, too, with the Lance trying an approach, dying, being respawned, and trying again, each time getting further along, like the level of a game, until they face the big boss. Luckily, this is mitigated in the story, because each death leads the Lance closer to madness and permanent failure. Each time he dies, he also experiences the memories of previous Lances who have faced and either failed or succeeded in freeing fallen lands. In fact, I found those some of the best parts of the book, as we see more of the world, the Horrors in it, and the Lances who have faced them. That frequent change of character and setting made it a much more interesting world and story.
I should also note that I thought the story needed a(nother) proofread, because there were quite a few typos and minor errors, particularly in the earlier parts of the book. I know some people will blame that on this being a self-published book, but I would note that I read a big-name, traditionally published book just a few weeks ago that had far more typos and errors.
An Altar of the Village Green is the first book in the Chained God series, and I will absolutely continue reading it. There are lots of mysteries still waiting to be discovered and explained, and I want to follow this story through to its end.
I don't think I can write a review that does justice to this book, but I'll give it a shot.
An Altar on the Village Green is an engrossing read. It kept me picking at ideas I found in it even when I was doing other things, and it's rare that a book does that for me.
Nathan Hall made some deliberately unconventional choices when constructing this book, and I am glad he did. It made it something special.
Told in the first person by a character known by their title (Lance) rather than their name, and one who is never described, the book is written in such a way that it is both deeply intimate and consciously enigmatic at the same time, and it works well. You don't need to know if the Lance is male or female, has blond hair or black, etc. These superficialities are utterly irrelevant to the story. You *do* need to know the Lance's doubts, fears, hopes, regrets, and psychological strengths and weaknesses, and you learn about these things at the same time as they do.
Interspersed throughout the book are, however, other stories from other points of view. These could have been annoying and distracting from the plot, but were very much not. They are important to the story, if not the immediate plot, and they allow Hall to flesh out his world in a way that conventional first person narration often struggles with. When I came to the first of these alternate point of view chapters, my immediate impulse was to skip it and continue with the main action, with the Lance's story. I did not, and after reading that first one I never had the impulse again.
When it comes to the plot, much like All You Need is Kill, the engine runs on time loops inspired by gaming (die, respawn, repeat). That's the mechanics of it, without giving spoilers. The *heart* of the plot, however, is characterization. When I understood the mechanics of how the Lance had to proceed to fulfil their quest, at first I was annoyed with them for making 'stupid' mistakes, but by the end both I and the Lance understood that optimizing your actions may get you to your goal, but cost you your humanity (and/or sanity) in the process. In a book where the main character gets multiple attempts to accomplish their goal, the choices they make are of course going to be important. But Hall was very careful and deliberate in showing that the *why* of our choices is as important, and may be more, than the choices themselves.
It's strange to say, but I enjoyed my time with the Lance, even though it was bloody and filled with horror and pain and more than a dab of madness. The Lance is... humane. Flawed. Someone you can cheer on when they succeed, and feel your heart sink for when they stumble and suffer.
I can't wait for the promised sequel, A Fort in Winter.
🔥 Read for SPFBO, this only my personal opinion, group verdict might differ widely! 🔥
An Altar on the Village Green is a very unique and ambitious dark and gritty tale that really sets itself apart. This book is so different, that I fear I will not be able to really do the book justice with my review, but I shall try my best!
What I immediately liked about it was the main character being a bit of a blank slate. We don't get any real information or description. This was my first clue that this had a bit of a videogame vibe to it. This is in no way Lit RPG, there's no stats sheets or such, however there's a sort of temporal loop going on, that immediately had me thinking about wiping at a boss again and again, but instead of giving up you keep looking for that other way. That detail you missed, that tiny advantage. I accidentally read two books with something like this in a row, and while they both handled it very differently, both worked well for me.
While the repetition might be boring for some other readers, I loved finding those little holes, the different perspectives, the way around obstacles. I openly confess that I didn't fully understand all of the time issues here - some things stay changed once you achieve them, others reset, but I didn't mind not fully getting every last little bit. It rather just kept the intrigue and suspense up for me.
The main "quest line" gets padded up and broken up a bit by visions of other Lances that went before, and other horrors, which definitely helped to keep the pacing even and made teh story feel more rounded.
The story is really, really dark. Seriously, there's horrible things happening to everyone, men, women, kids and any other living creature. Do not read this if you want to avoid those sort of things.
I don't usually enjoy horror, as I find it boring, but bits of this I can't find a better word for. I was glued to the pages though, so it is not at all what I'd usually call horror. Maybe horrendous grimdark, while feeling fitting for the story, not just gratuitous? As I said, I won't be up to write a review for this that gets my points across as well as I'd like.
One star missing because I had to backtrack here and there because the story lost me for a few pages, and I had to reread them to get back into it. I can't really put my finger exactly on why this happened, but I think some of the more repetitious moments just had me zoning out for a bit, until I noticed.
All in all still a really awesome new read that was such a great breath of fresh air! Highly recommended if you like your grim really dark.
This was a very interesting read; unlike any fantasy I have ever read. It didn’t seem to fall into familiar rhythms like I have seen in other fantasy novels, with a reluctant chosen one, a band of brothers (and now, thankfully in the last few decades, sisters too), and an enemy that is threatening the land. There is definitely a chosen one (of sorts), who gets (unconventional) allies (sometimes), and there is definitely an evil(s) threatening the land, but its all viewed through a dark lens, in a world and a tale that seems to draw upon some uncommon influences, others more often seen but nevertheless appreciated, ranging from Buddhist cycles of rebirth to Lovecraftian horror to psychological horror to in some ways video and roleplaying games, all in a tale that has one foot firmly planted in the fantasy camp and another in the horror camp.
It is a hard novel for me to review, particularly if I want to avoid spoilers (and I do). In this world, Horrors can take over a stretch of land, a village, a city (always somewhere inhabited it seems), the land effectively cut off from the outside world, those inside trapped in an unending, well, horror, the village or city a nightmare version of what it was before the Horror appeared on the scene, really a separate reality entirely. Not an obvious nightmare necessarily, as the danger can be subtle (at least at first, maybe) but it sure doesn’t stay that way. The Horror calls the shots in this new pocket reality and the original inhabitants will either serve that horror or be victimized by it or those serving it, though all will suffer in their own way, with a normal life impossible.
The only hope in this world against Horrors are Lances, sort of paladins sent out by the Church of the Chained God. Only they have the martial and magical abilities to defeat the Horrors (thereby destroying their pocket dimension and releasing those trapped within from torment). Importantly, the Lances, though they have skill with their blades as well as other tricks up their sleeves, have to use most of all their minds to persevere. Not only does a Lance have to withstand the mind-numbing horror they encounter, the endless mental and physical anguish they both witness and personally experience, the crushing sense of futility of their task, but they have to most of all figure out what exactly the Horror is (and located, not necessarily easy tasks) and how exactly to defeat it. Even if the Horror is to be defeated by the weapon skills of the Lance, figuring out exactly how to take one down is often far from obvious.
It was at times a challenging read. It was definitely grim and dark, almost bleak. Though the goal of the Lances was far from pointless, owning to the nature of their tasks and the reality of the Horror realms, it felt at times pointless. A strong Lance could take those very feelings of hopelessness and futility and turn them into strengths, that where one sees a pointless task, another can see opportunity (hard to explain more without spoilers) but it is a very dark road indeed. One always faces the danger of even if the Horror doesn’t claim you physically, it can claim you mentally and spiritually (very Nietzsche).
Another reason that it could be challenging was I didn’t always quite follow along at first when there was a shift in narrative, when the central storyline switched to other characters and very different settings. It was always interesting and I soon understood, but it was a little jarring at first. In the end though it developed the world a lot and showed rather than told about an overall underlying theme that the author doesn’t quite spell out until the very end.
The Horrors themselves, the creatures at the center, would have done Lovecraft proud all while not being derivative (and indeed often are much more horrifying and some were just relatable enough to be quite terrifying for being somewhat relatable).
Pacing was good to excellent, the description vivid, action very well written and easy to follow. Some more background on the overall world would be nice and while I appreciate the rather rapid pace in which the action starts early on in the book, some more grounding in the central character’s life before events began would have been welcome.
If you are a horror-fantasy fan, you MUST read An Altar on the Village Green
This book is pure, unfiltered, unvarnished, no-fucks-given horror set in a Dark Souls-like metaphysics where the MC can respawn after each death, dream the lives of other people who died, and use the ichor of his eldritch god to, sort-of, regenerate.
The MC is a holy knight on a quest to vanquish a truly, ungodly, unfathomably evil horror that I’m not gonna spoil. Let’s just say it’s very Lovecraftian, disturbing, and devious. It’s the stuff of nightmares.
There is exhilarating action and utter terror at every turn as the MC must both save lives and overcome this nightmare. The prose is BONKERS good, it’s the epitome of "show don’t tell." You are in the horror, the nails of despair prickling down your spine, caked in your own sweat, your sword jittering in your hand as you turn the corner to the sound of shrieking children…
Dark fantasy fans, horror fans, Dark Souls fans, just read the damn book and thank me later.
An Altar on the Village Green is inspired by a video game called Dark Souls. I am not a gamer but am aware of video games and could easily see their influence on this book in the way the character often dies, followed by a vision of a flashback scene from the perspective of another character, before starting again with a new life back at their spawning point. There are Anchors which the main character has to prick his finger on as part of his religious duty, and these appear to act like saving points in a video game. He is stuck there in that particular village (or stage of the game) until he is victorious over the Horror which holds sway in that village. I have heard that players of Dark Souls will notice all manner of nods to the game in the book, but alas these all went over my head.
I read An Altar on the Village Green as one of my dark fantasy/horror picks for October and it was certainly full of gore, monsters and horror elements described masterfully in great detail. Not for the faint of heart, but perfect for a grisly Halloween read.
Written mostly in first person perspective, the pace was fast and action-packed as the nameless hero battles evils in the name of his church. A devout worshipper of the Chained God, he has trained to become a Lance and his duty is to leave the safety of the city of Ymrit and heal the Fallen Lands of the Horrors stalking them:
"Ymrit was a place of safety, stability, order. From the shelter our god provided, we sent our Lances to spread peace and sanity. Or we once had."
Our hero is the first Lance to undertake such a quest for many years and is sort of immortal, healing himself from wounds via a flask of his god’s ichor which he carries. If he dies he gets a restart with the flask once again full, and hopefully he learns something of use for his own quest during the intervening vision he experiences of previous Lances’ quests. He is also the last of the Lances and as such is aware that if he fails to rid the village of its Horror he will be stuck there reliving his failure over and over again for eternity. The world of this book is a dying world and the Lance is their only hope for salvation. He has a kind of mantra which the High Cantor impresses upon him before he leaves Ymrit, which he tries to bear in mind to keep him going:
“Be observant,” I murmured. “Be clever. Be decisive. Be safe. Above all, be safe.”
To begin with the story felt somewhat like a whodunnit. The Lance has no idea who or what is causing the Horrors but is steadfast in his belief that his god has chosen him to cleanse the land of its evil or go mad in the attempt. The more times the Lance fails in his attempts to rid the village of the Horror, the more visions and pain he experiences, the closer he comes to insanity. Towards the end of the story he is very close to relinquishing to madness:
“It must be such a relief, to the struggling Lance, to give in to the madness of a place. Failure is a comfort, when success means sufficient torment.”
The visions allow him to see the Horror from the perspective of other Lances of old – people he has learned about in his studies and idolized as heroes his whole life. They also show the reader a little more of the world in which the story takes place and these sections are where most of the excellently descriptive world-building takes place. They are almost like little standalone short stories within the general narrative which I thought was really cool.
An Altar on the Village Green is definitely a book worthy of your attention, particularly if you enjoy the darker side of fantasy and can stomach much gore and grisly killings, in the name of saving the world. At times it reminded me of the medieval paintings by Hieronymous Bosch.
Horrors are taking over villages one by one at an ever-increasing rate. Where once Lances of the Chained God would combat the evil encroaching the land, they have either become lost to the madness the horrors bring or given up. But there is one Page that seeks to become a Lance and carry on their duties. Having read countless tales of the prior Lances, he feels that he can carry on their legacy and help save the world. But as he picks up his sword as a Lance and dives into his first horror, he will struggle to combat the madness that surrounds him. And with each death he will unveil hidden truths about his heroes, only to discover some weren’t what they seemed.
An Altar on the Village Green is one of those books that asks you to put the pieces together as you read. Just enough information is given to slowly reveal the horror the main protagonist experiences to discover the truth. You will most likely be confused as the story shifts focus from time to time, but stick with it. When the pieces come together, you’ll never want to put this book down.
Nathan Hall’s writing is phenomenal. You’ll be engaged in the thrilling struggle to free one of the many villages from Horror. There are many avenues evil has taken hold of the village, but our protagonist must find the true source and destroy it. But what happens when you slaughter countless people you think are the source of evil, only to find you were wrong? Imagine the emotional toll it takes and the doubt it places in your mind. And then picture the knowledge that death cannot free you from madness. Each death starts the cycle of madness over and over and over again. The only true freedom is finding the initial cause of the horror.
As a gamer, I never considered what it would be like for a character I’m playing to die and respawn again and again. To have to repeat the same path and try something different each time to achieve success. An Altar on the Village Green brings this detail so often overlooked in games to startling clarity. It truly is a horror all its own to have to experience death multiple times just to learn how to achieve success.
This is an intense book. Not only is An Altar on the Village Green a brilliant dive into the fantasy genre, the notes of horror woven within the story give it an overall darker tone that accents the narrative. Readers will experience firsthand everything the protagonist is feeling and the doubts wedging themselves into his mind as the majority of the book is written in the first person. But in between failed attempts to banish the Horror, third person slips in to reveal the lives of past Lances. And their tales reveal hidden truths and falsifications the world has blatantly trusted as truth.
Every chance I could I sat down to read this book. It has been a long time since a book has captivated as much as An Altar on the Village Green. Fantasy readers, you have to pick this up and give it a try. And if you enjoy tales that walk on the darker side of the genre? This is perfect for you.
This spooky season I’ve been trying to read a variety of horror, I generally read more Gothic horror however when I heard about this novel I was drawn to the uniqueness of the story and within the first chapter I was fully invested.
This novel is told, mostly, in first person which I found incredibly engaging. By using first person there was a strong focus on showing rather than telling the reader what is going on in the world. Whilst in the beginning this was a little confusing, especially after the sudden narrative shift every few chapters, after the first couple of times I was able to figure out what was going on and it felt very rewarding. Although the protagonist is fairly faceless in the fact that they don’t have a name or much physical description, Hall still manages to develop our narrator and give them their own personality which I really enjoyed.
In fact, character is something Hall does excellently throughout the novel. We have recurring characters who are complex, whose backstories are gradually revealed to keep you hooked. However, we also have characters that are only introduced for one chapter and, for me, this is where Hall truly shines. There were multiple of these ‘interlude’ chapters where, even though we are only just meeting the characters, I immediately felt an emotional connection to them and could have easily read an entire novel with them.
Despite the dark and horrific events of the novel, Hall’s writing felt quite lyrical which made certain passages even more haunting. Although we don’t see a lot of the world that our protagonist is trying to save from the Horrors, which I’m hoping will be expanded on in other installments in the series, what we do see creates a very striking and desolate image. Hall perfectly captures the bleak atmosphere and the feeling of helplessness and yet balances it with the resilience of humans and their desperation to survive.
As an avid gamer, I’m used to the idea of the constant death and respawning of a protagonist (I mean, I said ‘avid’ gamer, not ‘skilled’), however it wasn’t until this novel where I really thought about what that meant for the protagonist and the world around them. To see this idea explored in such a way was so refreshing and intriguing. Even though we were presented with the same scenario over and over, there was always something fresh to the scene that kept it interesting and stopped it from ever feeling repetitive in a bad way. Even if you’re not a gamer, or not familiar with the Dark Souls franchise, you will still be able to enjoy the narrative regardless especially as the narrative is so unique to the genre.
Overall, this is definitely a novel that you should experience for yourself and piece together the pieces of the puzzle! This series has a lot of potential and after this first installment, I’m very excited to see where Hall takes us next!
I love it when a book doesn't overtly try to show its little literary decisions and ends up with something actually remarkably intelligent. I could write a whole essay about how Nathan cleverly inserted his Dark Souls inspiration into this wholly unique work, but being as it is a novel at the end of the day, I will save that insight for myself.
An Altar on the Village Green is set in a world where monsters exist. They manifest in the form of Horrors (each one unique) and plague a land. Lances, a form of church knight blessed by a chained God, are given certain powers to face these horrors.
What is distinctly clever is the way in which our first person narrative character is trapped in a nightmare, a horrific groundhog day, if you will. Once he dies, we are given the third person perspective of a past lance in another world. These little chapters are actually cleverly disguised short stories hidden between a larger plot. It is such a simple but genius concept that I found it incredibly original.
Not just that, but Nathan's prose is impeccable too!
While the characters themselves which our Lance is trying to save may be forgettable, the story and horror certainly is not. And with each failed attempt and with each rebirth, the reader too is forced with the same question that our protagonist is: "Should I keep going? Or let the madness win?"
Nathan Hall's debut novel, An Altar on the Village Green sees a young servant of the Chained God, known as a Page, crossing the threshold of their destiny as a Lance. The Lances are the reaching arms of the Church of Chains and the last line of defense against the encroaching Horrors consuming the world around them. Or, they were until our Lance's teacher, High Cantor Araz, laid down his burden and the last Lance to make it home with the tools of their trade retired to tend those in need in Ymrit, the Great City. It was here that he took in our hero as a child and trained them in the central tenants of the Church: 'As long as one suffers, I suffer. As long as one is chained, I am chained.'
Despite the High Cantor's best efforts, our hero decides to face their destiny and is brought deep into the earth beneath the church where they come face to face with one of the deepest truths of their faith. Their god and the chains that bind them are no metaphors. Exposed to the reality of their god, deep beneath the center of the refugee crowded, hunger plagues streets of Ymrit, our hero's resolve is tested. In a truly monolithic chamber decorated by carvings strange creatures who look nothing like any people they've ever seen our Lance takes their vows and feeds the first drop of their blood to their Book, one of the three tools of the Lances. This brings them into a harsh and alien communion with their god and with their land.
Grown up in a world ever more consumed by the Horrors, our Lance sets out with a mind full of legends and stories. They're taken aback by how quickly they are torn out of their terrified, hungry world and plunged into their first Horror. Here death means the agony of resurrection, imparting horrifying visions to our Lance. It also means a grimly final damnation for everyone else. Forced to watch the repeating cycle of violence, betrayal and heartbreak our Lance must time and time again make decisions that threaten their sanity as they witness others' parting with their own. In a quiet village trapped in eternal torment our Lance attempts to identify the source of the Horror but first they must survive those people within its tangled web of tragedy and duplicity.
The Lance's triumph would mean peace for this village but falling short could mean the end of everything else and so through many painful, scarring failures our Lance learns what paths to follow and steps to take to avoid the immediate dangers ahead of them: roving bands of marauders ready to kill to end their torture, burning buildings and cleverly laid ambushes by civilians enraged by the rigging of a mysterious lottery involving the town's children. Unfortunately, the perils and pitfalls crouched in wait in the darker corners of the village – and of our Lance's mind, are equal threats. With each death, our Lance returns to life with visions of another Lance who failed in their duties and begins to merge lessons learned with their training from the Church.
Secrets both intensely personal to our Lance and to the people held in the Horror unravel themselves the farther the Lance pushes into the village and into the mysteries surrounding major players in the community. None, though, rival the secret of the altar on the village green or the danger that prowls its confines. Our Lance must decide what lessons from their own deaths and from the visions of long gone Lances to embrace, must decide who can be trusted and just how long it is safe to do so if they want even a chance to bring this Horror to an end and return to the outside world, where hundreds, maybe thousands more await.
Perhaps almost as captivating as the story is the questions the story raises not just about the world around our Lance and the intricate lore and history of this world but about concepts like identity and how our experiences and knowledge create who we are – not to mention what happens when our experiences and knowledge are not solely our own. I was left constantly wanting more; more peeks behind the curtain of the Church of Chains, a wider glance across the histories of fallen Lances, more time to dig into the brain of our Lance and see what made them tick as time passed. While so much of the appeal of An Altar on the Village Green is in how it plays to tropes more familiar in the medium of video games and allows you to impart something of yourself on the main character, the growth of the our Lance as each experience (whether their own or another's) is added to the rest is simultaneously a joy and a source of anxiety as you continue to wonder – who are they now? Who will they soon become?
Fans of many different genres will have something to flock to here. Speculative fiction readers will find old comforts playing out in surprising ways. Gamers will note familiarity in the ways and places the story's tempo rises and falls and somehow never seems to stop feeding you not just questions but just enough hints to formulate a guess while you continue seeking the answers. Those who enjoy a good mystery or paranormal thriller will have a filling meal on their plate that has a good chance of leaving your salivating for the next installment in this series. An Altar on the Village Green's real power to charm a person despite tense and even distressing moments is, in the end, based on a very simple force: the need to learn more. Beyond that next obstacle is a new idea or a fresh light cast upon an old one.
I hope you'll join me in casting light on the village green.
Dark Souls in Buchform – das perfekte Buch für die Halloweenzeit
Die Welt stirbt. Immer mehr Orte werden von Schrecken (im Original horrors) verschluckt. Die Menschen dort sterben oder fliehen nach Ymrit, dem letzten Zufluchtsort der Menschheit. Auch die Kirche, die sich lange Zeit den Schrecken widersetzte, hat den Kampf mittlerweile aufgegeben. Nur der Protagonist, ein Page der Kirche, entschließt sich, zur Lanze zu werden und sich den Schrecken entgegenzustellen, um das Ende der Welt abzuwenden.
Der Autor selbst gibt an, dass Dark Souls als Inspiration für das Buch diente. Parallelen, die es neben dem düsteren Setting gibt, sind schnell zu finden. So sind die Flaschen mit dem Blut eines Gottes das Pendant zu den Estus-Flakons und die Anker das Gegenstück zu den Leuchtfeuern aus Dark Souls.
Besonders sticht das zuvor genannte düstere Gesamtsetting hervor. Wie auch in Dark Souls ist die Menschheit fast ausgerottet. Nur noch in Ymrit ist sie sicher vor den Schrecken, wie die Erscheinungen übernatürlicher, finsterer Wesen, die die Menschheit tyrannisieren, genannt werden. Nur die Lanzen, die Ritter des geketteten Gottes, können diese besiegen. Außer dem namenlosen Protagonisten scheint es jedoch keine Lanzen mehr zu geben und die Kirche ist dem Ende nahe – wie es sich für die Endzeitstimmung ziemt.
Die Erzählung aus der Ich-Perspektive fühlt sich außergewöhnlich natürlich an. Nie gibt der Protagonist für ihn überflüssige Informationen wieder, nur um dem Leser weitere Informationen zu geben. Auch, dass der Protagonist namens- und geschlechtslos bleibt, wirkt passend und erleichtert es, sich in die Geschichte und den Protagonisten einzufühlen. Der Charakter ist so, wie ihn der Leser sich vorstellt – ähnlich wie die freie Erstellung eines Videospiel-Charakters.
Lediglich die Erzählstruktur warf mich zunächst etwas aus der Geschichte. Immer wieder gibt es dabei Kapitel mit Erinnerungen von vergangenen Lanzen, die die Haupthandlung unterbrechen. Erst nach und nach wurde mir dabei klar, wie diese die Erzählung der Hauptgeschichte mit wichtigen Hintergrundinformationen bereichern.
Insgesamt ist An Altar on the Village Green ein starkes Buch nach Vorbild der Dark Souls-Spiele. Dabei übernimmt der Autor viele Elemente der Spielreihe und schafft sein eigenes düsteres Setting. Ich bin gespannt, wie sich die Hintergrundgeschichte in den kommenden Bänden weiterentwickelt und welche wohin die Reisen des Protagonisten diesen führen.
“Cities fell to madness forever. Kingdoms collapsed. Treaties burned and taxes withered. Trade was a rare treasure. The world had slid gradually, but ever more swiftly, out of balance. Hope was wounded on the roadside, bleeding, breaking itself further just to breathe, just to move.”
“An Altar on the Village Green” is a dark fantasy set in a world on the edge of Ruin, with kingdoms and society falling victim to a series of “horrors” in which anyone encapsulated in the horror is forced to relieve their torment in seemingly endless loops, a sort of personal hell. An Institution has been set up to combat these horrors, in the time of the book the institution is known as “The Church of the Chained God”. The macabre setting is brilliantly portrayed, and the dark tone is kept well throughout the book.
We follow our nameless protagonist on their journey as possibly the last Lance, an Ordained Holy Warrior of the Church who ventures into the fallen lands to free the people of their endless torment. A Lance has the ability to seemingly resurrect at an “Anchor” ( a symbol of their God) should they die inside the horror, this allows the Lance repeated (endless) attempts to quell the horror. However they cannot leave the horror until it is defeated, and should the task prove too difficult, the Lance may succumb to madness and remain trapped in the horror with the very people they came to free.
This madness may sound familiar to Dark Souls players. I think those who have played the Dark Souls games will feel a great appreciation for this book. I never really stopped to think about just how terrifying and hopeless the situation our protagonists in those games are in, this book greatly highlighted that in brilliant detail. However, an experience of these games is definitely not required to enjoy this novel greatly!
The tale is told in first person through the MC. A vague description of the MC is given, we don’t know their gender or their features, allowing them to be whoever we want. The use of first person is brilliant in this book. We aren’t told anything the protagonist isn’t, we learn the situation with them and share in those “Aha!” moments. We feel the confusion, despair and terror the MC experiences on their journey. Every fight and death is told in brilliant bloody detail, down to individual sword swings, the gory description of each wound and how our MC is killed, whether slowly or quickly (Unfortunately for the MC, they still experience the pain of death and every injury). Sometimes, we share the sense of Victory!
The evolution of the MC throughout the book is satisfying to read. Being a Lance, they are trained with the sword, but despite this, they have never actually fought! But no worries, our MC has plenty of chances to learn *heh*, and we see how they hone their skills through intense action scenes (of which there are many) as the story progresses. We see their desperation at saving innocents, and how their resolve is tested and strengthened (eventually). Indeed, we the reader are left with a rewarding conclusion.
With every death, the MC relives the memories of previous Lances, some with names the MC recognises as legendary or some from centuries ago when the Church had a different name. Through these memories, we learn how other Lances dealt with the horror they faced, or didn’t and fell to madness. The setting of every memory is strikingly different, from snowy mountains to coral-bearing ocean lagoons, and the nature of the horrors contained varies wildly between physical and psychological. This created an intriguing anthology of dark tales, which kept with the pace of the main story early on. Unfortunately, towards the end, I felt the cutting to a memory, detaching us from the main story, was slightly jarring; especially when the memory had no apparent connection to the events the MC just experienced.
Overall, Nathan Hall has crafted a brilliant dark tale that is a delight to read. I look forward to any continuation of this series!
An Altar on the Village Green is often mentioned whenever someone seeks recommendation for a book that shares similar lore and dark vibes as Dark Souls - the highly celebrated game, and I agree.
5/5 for concept, 4/5 for prose, 2/5 for pacing. The visions are so disruptive that I eventually found myself skipping pages towards the end just so that I can get on with the main arc. They have also eaten way too much into the plot, to the point that if the whole story were to be retold without the visions, it would just feel like it didn't progress much at all. I get that the visions play a big part in building the lore, but unfortunately at the expense of the story itself.
I did notice that most people didn't seem to mind the flashbacks too much, so take my personal opinions with a pinch of salt if you may.
All in all still a highly recommended read for the Dark Souls fans. Looking forward to the next instalment (please go easy on the visions).
I don’t know. This book just wasn’t for me I guess. I struggled getting through this book. I love Dark Souls and when I heard this book being compared to it I was so excited, but it just didn’t click with me. Like if what you enjoyed about Dark Souls was the feeling of being alone, dark, nameless protagonist, dying over and over, and the feeling of being lost, then maybe you’ll like it. For me though, the things I enjoy about From Software games were absent from this book.
Even not mentioning Dark Souls, I just found the book boring. I did not enjoy the nameless, lack-of-characterization protagonist. There were no characters to latch onto. The story felt repetitious. The world felt hollow.
I can understand why people may really enjoy this book. Don’t let my review deter you.
There are so many things I could say about this book, but it really is amazing! One of the stand out reads for me this year, something so original and wonderful awaits you here. A blend of Fantasy/horror and a Dark Souls influence await you. A full review will be on the blog soon.
I don’t read much self published stuff outside the Cradle series, but this was excellent. Dark fantasy/eldritch horror vibes. The kindle ebook needs some copy editing though. Overall, I really enjoyed this book.
This is a tough one to review. I really enjoyed the concept of the story, really was original and inventive. The setup to the beginning draws you into a dark and bleak world where horrors are destroying civilizations. Then we have the" lances", gods chosen warriors to stop the madness. All this sounds great till about halfway through, when I wished the lead character would just drop dead. That, is not good! I will definitely keep an eye on this author because this book had a lot of promise. Try it out, see what you think.
This book is badly in need of editing. The writing was just muddy and I was often confused as to what was going on. Also, this is a time loop story where the main character screws up a loop by mundane things like tripping in the dark or leaving a lantern in the wrong place. It just ends up being kind of boring. People recommend it to Dark Souls fans, and yes, it features a healing flask and some fantasy horror, but also is just not good. I really wanted to like this book too.
It occurs to me that I must have forgotten to post this review, so apologies to Nathan!
I read An Altar on the Village Green in 2021, so as you can rightly tell, this review is well overdue. The first in The Chained God series, An Altar on the Village Green by Nathan Hall is heavily inspired by the Dark Souls franchise of video games. If you’ve not heard of them, these are action RPGs set in a grimdark world with monsters, even bigger monsters, and other horrors beyond your comprehension. The Dark Souls series inspired a whole genre of difficult games which certainly don’t hold your hand. Due to this reputation of them being the hardest video games ever (and also super scary), I avoided them for a while. In fact, I hadn’t played a single one by the time I’d finished reading An Altar. However, this didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book.
You don’t need to have played the Dark Souls games to enjoy this book, though even as a gamer, I could appreciate the references to video game mechanics. It’s not a gamelit book, and I’d say the Dark Souls inspiration is subtle enough that many non-gamers probably wouldn’t notice. However, one thing this book did for me, and for many other readers, was to inspire us to visit these games. I played, completed, and absolutely enjoyed the hell (pun intended) out of Elden Ring, the latest release by Souls developer From Software. Thanks to my experience with Elden Ring, I could reflect on my time with An Altar and recognise and appreciate the details that went into it.
So then, An Altar on the Village Green is set in a rather grim world where horrors can take over towns and other places where humans gather. These horrors come in various monstrous forms, seemingly with an intelligence of the horror they inflict. Not only do they take over towns and kill, torture, or control the residents, but these horrors also trap their victims in an endless loop of suffering where they live out their destruction over and over again. Sounds pretty hopeless!
And that’s where the church of the Chained God steps in. They provide aid, refuge, and hope to those afflicted by the horrors, and also train warriors known as Lance’s to deal with them. While serving their god, each Lance can ‘anchor’ themselves to an altar and return from the dead should they fail. What this means is a ‘Live, Die, Repeat’ scenario where each Lance could potentially die many times while trying to stop a horror, and thus learn from their mistakes so that next time, they might not die so easily.
Dying over and over while battling actual horror would drive anyone mad. And that’s only one pain our Lance must contend with!
What I’ll whine about: As a fantasy book, there is plenty of action in An Altar, but there’s also quite a thick amount of description that can make the book feel slower paced. It’s certainly a story to savour and enjoy at night with a good drink. And of course, this being a dark fantasy, it’s also as violent and bloody as you’d expect! In fact, this is one of the few books where the intricate details of gore got a bit too much for me and I had to put it down for a moment! It’s not for the feint of heart!
What I’ll gush about: The world of An Altar on the Village Green is a dark and terrifying one that is beautifully described. Hall has a talent for building atmosphere and creating that kind of unsettling feeling you’d get from a horror movie. There’s a lot of epic fighting in this book as the Lance faces down various foes on his way to breaking the curse of the village, but there’s also a lot of somber reflection as well.
My favourite aspect of the book is when the Lance dies. Yes, I know, I’m cheerful. After each death, he returns to his anchor. His actions reset, though he retains his memories so that he can try again. This is fascinating on its own, and explores the gaming trope of respawning. With each death, each failure, the Lance must readjust his tactics and make decisions on who he can save along the way and who he must sacrifice for the greater goal. These failures come with a cost of his growing madness, which is reflected in his doubts. Can he do the job and outwit the monster? Or will he fail and become trapped in this horror forever, doomed to repeat his suffering along those he’s trying to save?
But also at each death, the Lance receives a memory of a prior Lance and their solution to dealing with a different horror. These are like side stories which follow the different Lances whether they succeed or fail. Each is designed to teach our Lance a lesson to help him, but they’re also a unique way to open up and explore the world Hall has devised.
Final words: An Altar on the Village Green is like a twisted love letter to the Souls games. If you’re a fan of those, or dark fantasy in general, then this is a special journey you don’t want to miss.
So let me preface that I love Dark Souls to death and I'm also analyzing work on what to do and not do when I publish. My books I write strive to be similar to Dark Souls (and not to mention, books I actually want to read.) As a result, I might be more blunt on this book.
I feel like there were a lot of good and bad points with this book.
On one hand, this is finally the first book that reached me from word of mouth that was similar to Dark Souls, and it truly was! On the other hand, holy crap, there were pacing and grammar mistakes galore in this book.
The dichotomy with the different memories of the Lances were both the strength and downfall of this book. I loved this concept, but the problem is, some of the Lances in these memories I literally gave two shits about. And in a few cases, there were also glaring loop holes, such as runes.
What this book does well is give you exactly what that Dark Souls itch is craving, more so on the action side, rather than the lore side, which even if you like Dark Souls only for the lore, this is a good introduction to Dark Souls books.
The action side you can get lost pretty easily what Hall is trying to paint a picture of. Sometimes a character is walking, but then suddenly is in a different side of a building when the writing never said he went anywhere near this building? This might have been a stylistic choice, I'm not sure. I feel like the action writing wouldn't be a problem if he had some alpha readers read this before the 2nd drafts were done and maybe a few more editors to look at it. There were a few glaring typos and pacing issues I felt could have remedied this book into easily 4.5 stars. I feel like this book could be seen in big bookstores if these problems were fixed.
All of that said, I will be one of those peoples who can't wait for book 2! Assuming he gets better editors and alpha readers, I really want to see where our unnamed protagonist goes next! I want to hope other Lances are alive, waiting patiently at a faraway Anchor for someone...anyone to come to their rescue.
Edit: I forgot to mention, Hall has a weird marriage with similes. I can't tell if I am just hyper aware of similes in writing, but I feel like there's at least 5 per page and it kinda drove me mad lol
An Altar on the Village Green is a fantastic tale of madness and horror. Nathan Hall weaves a story that ebbs and flows with a unique atemporal logic. This, more than anything else, sets it apart from your run of the mill fantasy novel. At its core, The Chained God is a series that is more ambition in its conception that most other fantasy novels.
Taking inspiration from the Demon Souls series and other, similar video games, Nathan Hall, deftly intertwines the mechanics and the ambiance of these games into the fabric of the novel itself. Our hero is a Lance, the chosen warrior of the Church of the Chained God. With his holy regalia—Sword, Book, and Flask— he sets out to free the haunted land from the grips of madness. Dispatched to a small village, he discovers a tableau of human sacrifice and buildings burning in the night. The hamlet’s inhabitants have cracked under the weight of the horror, neighbors and friends turning viciously on one another. It’s up to the Lance to unravel the convoluted truth and find a path through this insanity to the horror on the village green. Only by striking the core of this terror can he free the village from a time loop in which they replay their descent into pandemonium over and over.
What sets this apart from other horror inspired fantasy are the mechanics which echo video game functions. If the hero is killed, he is reborn from an anchor, basically a spawn point. He also witnesses “cut scenes” the lives of other Lances as they too have battled Horrors. He can retry his attempt at traversing the village over and over again, just like a video game, the only catch…with each iteration the trauma he has witnessed and suffered infuses him with a little more madness. Eventually it will overwhelm him and he too will be caught in this endless loop of suffering.
High marks for world building. Despite borrowing from video games for inspiration, the narrative never felt corny or juvenile. The story is very well written and the prose are strong. There were a few times when quasi-poetic language sounded beautiful but didn’t quite express a tangible scene as well as might be hoped. In general, this was pretty minor and occurred infrequently, but there was one interlude passage that left me pretty confused for about five page before the concrete details solidified enough for me to get a good grasp of what was happening. There was illusion involved and the subject of the passage was also confused too, so I understand what the author was going for, but it still pushed me out of the narrative for a bit.
The author did an excellent job maintaining the tone of this novel. The world is really cool and really dark. It was very compelling and the author’s commitment to his vision never wavered. I loved the monsters in this story. I loved the slow reveal of the chaos that had unfolded prior to the Lance’s arrival. I loved the time jumps and the visions of other Lance’s battles against other horrors. This was a unique book. Anyone who enjoys novels with mind-bending elements and dark themes should check it out.
"Death can no longer chain me." "Death can no longer free me".
Inspired by the Dark Souls games, An Altar on the Village Green is a dark fantasy with a fairly unique twist. Well, several actually. The premise is fairly standard; a dark horror is threatening the land and our hero has to go out and save it. In this case, our hero is a Lance in the Church of the Chained God. Their God can give them special powers to help in their fight against the Horrors. But, twist one, they are losing and losing badly. It seems that much of the world has fallen to the Horrors and the City of the Chained God is all that is left. Our hero is also the last of his line, the last Lance to go and fight against the darkness. Twist two, we never find out the Lance's name, any kind of character descriptions or anything much about them really. Some might find that weird enough to throw them out of the story but it didn't really affect me. However, I did think that is must have taken some pretty clever mindgames on the part of the author not to give anything away. The Lance leaves the city and the Chained God using impulsions to direct them where to go. Following these, the Lance thinks they might be on the way to the nearest large city, to help and free it from the on-going darkness. But then they arrive. And it's a village. A small village. And the story begins in earnest.
The vast majority of the book takes place inside this village. Due to this, there obviously isn't a lot of worldbuilding. The Horrors are never truly explained (might be coming in later books?) and the history is vague. But it all lends to the claustrophobic feeling that builds and builds. The tension rachets up noticeably throughout the book. In true dark souls fashion, the Lance is able to respawn through the power of their God, so they cannot truly die. Instead, they respawn at the anchor (save point?) at a specific point of the story. This, in my experience, is pretty unique in fantasy. Immortals; yes. Reliving past lives; yes. Respawning and living through the grind of a boss level? No. And it is a central part of the story. Each time the Lance "dies", they live a portion of previous Lances lives, which serves to teach them. These lessons, once learnt (which is not always immediately), help the Lance to get a little bit closer to their objective. So video game, so good.
This could have been terrible; a direct step by step rip-off of a beloved video game genre. But, there is a proper story behind it. Between this and the cloying, dark atmosphere the author creates, An Altar on the Village Green is saved from this terrible fate. It is dark. It is relentless throughout the grind. But it is also well written and will keep you on the edge of your seat. With a few jump-scares thrown in, if you like your fantasy crossing the boundary into horror, this is book for you.
I started this book with the promise of a Souls-based story. I was a little skeptical, since the Souls mechanics don`t usually translate well to a book. So I thought i would just find a dark fantasy story. Enjoyable, but nothing really memorable.
Boy, I was SO wrong.
First, we get the setting. The world is on its last days. The only defense against a threat known as the Horror(s), which has taken most of the world, is a church, which has exactly two remaining members. So, the hopeless, apocaliptic setting is spot on, really feels like Dark Souls. One of those members, only known as the Lance, decides to start a quest to free the world from the Horrors. For said quest they have their trusty sword, a healing flask and the power to keep resurrecting as long as they don`t lose their mind.
Okay, so far so good. After the first 25% or so of the book, the Lance arrives to the mentioned village, where their proper quest begins. And the following things happen there. Spoilers without context after this paragraph:
-The Lance dies against the literal first enemy -The Lance dies a second time in the same fight inmediately after -The Lance is killed because they were trying to heal with the flask -After a lot of attempts, the Lance reaches the "boss" of the area. They are instantly killed -The Lance discovers they have to start from the beginning after being killed by the boss -The Lance rushes to reach the boss as fast as possible, they are killed because they were being too careless -The Lance fights the same enemies so many times, they can kill them without effort -After progressing a lot, the Lance is terrified because there is no savepoint, and dying means losing all progress
Anyone who has played a Souls will find these situations familiar. Nathan Hall has managed to capture the essence of this games and turn it into a very enjoyable story
Finally, I want to say a few words about the Horrors. Most of them are shown through visions, and they are one of my favorite parts of the book. The eldritch horror contained in each of those visions is the most intense i`ve read recently. I really look foward to read the sequel and see what new horrors Nathan has in store.
In conclussion, An Altar on the Village Green is a well crafted story that delivers everything it promises, and even more.