Reign of the Fallen by Sarah Glenn Marsh
My Rating: 4/5 TARDISes
Series: Reign of the Fallen #1
Date Published: January 23rd, 2018
Pages: 384 pages
Synopsis: Without the dead, she’d be no one.
Odessa is one of Karthia’s master necromancers, catering to the kingdom’s ruling Dead. Whenever a noble dies, it’s Odessa’s job to raise them by retrieving their soul from a dreamy and dangerous shadow world called the Deadlands. But there is a cost to being raised: the Dead must remain shrouded. If even a hint of flesh is exposed, a grotesque transformation begins, turning the Dead into terrifying, bloodthirsty Shades.
A dramatic uptick in Shade attacks raises suspicions and fears around the kingdom. Soon, a crushing loss of one of her closest companions leaves Odessa shattered, and reveals a disturbing conspiracy in Karthia: Someone is intentionally creating Shades by tearing shrouds from the Dead–and training them to attack. Odessa is forced to contemplate a terrifying question: What if her magic is the weapon that brings the kingdom to its knees?
Fighting alongside her fellow mages–and a powerful girl as enthralling as she is infuriating–Odessa must untangle the gruesome plot to destroy Karthia before the Shades take everything she loves.
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*
This is a spoiler-free review.
I was incredibly impressed and pleasantly surprised by this novel. It can be difficult to find young adult fantasy novels that are noticeably distinct from many of the others out there. And for me, this was one of those fantasy novels that separated itself from all the rest. A truly unique and diverse narrative of strength and courage plays out against a glittering and exquisitely depicted backdrop of a kingdom falling into the hands of deception. Reign of the Fallen is one of those novels that captivates you from page one, and sweeps you into a darkly alluring world of magic and intrigue, where nothing is as it seems and friendship, family, and love are victorious.
In this novel, we follow Odessa, a young master necromancer who attends to the Dead that rule the kingdom of Karthia. With her rare abilities of sight and sense, she has served in a key role of her society, traveling into an enchanting and treacherous world called the Deadlands. Here, the spirts of those who have recently died roam until they pass on to their final resting place. Odessa and her partner carry out the ritual of returning spirits from the Deadlands back to their bodies, and their families.
However, those who are raised have a dangerous price to pay—they must remain entirely shrouded, hidden from the eyes of the living, or risk turning into a deadly creature called a Shade. Shade’s stalk the shadows of the Deadlands, feeding on both spirits—and any humans who enter this world—in order to gain size and power. Through a series of devastating losses, Odessa and the other necromancers in her community realize that something about their two worlds has shifted. Shrouded people are disappearing, Shades are materializing in Karthia, and these Shades seem to be trained to attack.
This is Sarah Glenn Marsh’s second published work, and she is already clearly displaying a remarkable amount of talent and creativity. She skillfully paints a picture of this mysterious and sinisterly magical world and the people that dwell within it. Her world building is top-notch and her character creation is solid. While not wholly unpredictable, the plot is exciting and original, and it travels at a fast pace that captures the reader’s attention. The tone of the narrative, the evolution of the characters, and the textual illustration of the setting seamlessly work together to give this story a realistic and almost tangible quality.
Both love and death have a crucial role in the way this novel’s plot unfolds. Death is a theme that shapes the society and lives of the Karthians, and is what kicks off the actions of our main characters. However, the strong love that resides in the connections between both lovers and friends is shown to contain the most power. Through pain, tragedy, and hopelessness, this is where the true strength can be found. No matter how hard death tries to reign supreme, love will always triumph. This is the message that resounds throughout the novel, and this is the true beauty that emanates from every page.
Marsh’s characters are, by far, my favorite part of this novel. She did a brilliant job of making each and every one of them memorable and three-dimensional—easy to imagine and to connect with. I became invested in these characters from the page that they entered the narrative on, and they have stuck with me long after finishing the novel. This is also where much of the diversity of this novel lies. No one is judged on appearance or gender; sexuality is not a point of contention. These topics are not dwelled on, they just are. Aside from some barriers due to position in the society of the kingdom, everyone is generally free to love and live in the way they wish.
I completely and utterly adore Odessa. In short, she is one of the most badass heroines I’ve come across in a while. She is a fighter in every sense of the word. One of my favorite parts of the way Marsh depicts Odessa is that she does not shy away from displaying Odessa’s flaws. This makes Odessa even more realistic and relatable; she is not at all a perfect heroine. She makes many mistakes and bad choices. She goes through extreme struggles and trials, fighting both outer and inner demons such as addiction as a source of mental pain relief—and yet, nothing manages to stop her. Odessa’s strength always pushes her to do the right thing, to save the people she cares about as well as herself.
The biggest surprise of this novel for me was how much I actually liked the romantic aspects of the plot. I’m not someone who often tends to enjoy stories that focus too heavily on romance, and romance is a massive part of this particular book. However, it has an incredibly pivotal role in the direction of the narrative, and therefore is very necessary for many of the events that play out.
Romance is by no means a trivial aspect of the plot or a distraction from the most important events. This is what brings our main characters together and gives them the courage and determination to fight back and protect the people of Karthia. Marsh creates very sweet and beautiful romances, as tangible as her characters themselves, and very fitting to the plot.
Overall, I found this novel to be refreshingly unique and compelling. There is so much creativity and detail put into the creation of both Karthia and the Deadlands, making it exceptionally easy to enter in your mind. The main characters are lovable, and Marsh crafts them in a way that makes the reader come to be deeply invested in their lives and their fates. Very well-written, carefully crafted and paced, this story has remained with me and grown on me more and more as I’ve thought about it. Though this could easily be a perfectly satisfying standalone, I have very high hopes for the future novels of this series, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes in further installments.
Sarah Glenn Marsh has been an avid fantasy reader from the day her dad handed her a copy of The Hobbit and promised it would change her life; she’s been making up words and worlds ever since. When she’s not writing, Sarah enjoys painting, ghost hunting, traveling, and all things nerdy.
She lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband and their menagerie: four rescued greyhounds, a bird, and many fish. She is the author of Fear the Drowning Deep and Reign of the Fallen.