I know. Really. I get it. You have had enough of hearing about The Written by Ben Galley. Just hear me out. This was a reluctant read. I wouldn’t have added this to my Summer Fling if not for The Write Reads. And I was worried. Terrified, really that I wasn’t going to like it. I don’t do adult fantasy. And I was going into this blind, unlike 19th Bladesman by SJ Hartland.
But here’s the thing…. I ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT. NO. SERIOUSLY. And I will tell you something else. If you like audibles? OH, HELL YES. I went back and forth between reading the Kindle version and the audibles (both of which, I obtained on my own) The Kindle version was offered by Write Reads but it was free so I just downloaded it. The audibles I used my own credit for, just for clarification and it was so worth it! It was masterful.
Farden, the main character isn’t just a mage, he is one of The Written. Having gone through a series of tasks that can kill the best of mages, a spell book is tattooed on your back. Through this engrained and literally intrinsic magick, The Written are charged with the protection of Arka, a nation of Emaneska. Farden is the type of character I’m drawn to- deeply conflicted, complicated and often misunderstood. All hot-tempered, although often with good intentions. The temper usually gets in the way; nightmares that would drive my insomnia to epic proportions and straight to an insane asylum.
Without giving too much away it comes to pass that a rare book stolen at the beginning of the story, in the bloodiest of fashions is intricate to the demise of Emaneska. Farden is charged with bringing the Sirens and Dragons together with Arka (long distanced by war) to fight the looming threat.
Side characters including a long-time best friend, mentor vampire of even longer time- but of course, and mother-hen housekeeper, long-lost love and weary council are vividly brought to life along this journey.
Ok. So, stay with me here. Now, can we talk about the dragons. Actually, it’s the dragons that can talk. And I’m not talking about some silly nonsense, either. These dragons are wise, deep and sage. Conversing with them is personally deep and often eye-opening.
Farden’s initial conversation with Farfallen, after returning his Tear Book, thereby beginning the restoration of Farfallen’s memories, and powers of a dragon is intense. The exchange encompasses the emotional, physical and soul tether from Siren (the rider) to their dragon, along with Farden to his magick. Thus depicting the shared possibility of exhilaration and tragedy of both.
<Farden> “What is it like? Flying, I mean?”
<FarFallen> “Exhilarating and second nature. Dragons are born in the air and we die in the air, so without the rush of the wind beneath our wings we are lost… I once knew an unfortunate dragon who lost one of his wings in a terrible battle… If memory serves, I believe he ended up dying from a broken heart. It doesn’t happen often to a dragon, but it can. The same happens when we lose a rider we’ve bonded with. Should they die, we die. Should we die, they live, and from then on, they live like that old dragon, halved… What is it like for you… being a written?”
“Farden was surprised that the old dragon would want to know about him and his kind. It’s difficult to describe, he began. It’s constant, in one form or another. It burns hot on your back when you cast a spell, or in the presence of other magick, if it’s strong enough. It’s heavy. You can feel the sensation of the magick rushing through your veins, ice and boiling water all at the same time. But then at other times it’s intangible. The weight lifts, it grows cold, and you can’t grab at it or hold it… It’s treacherous, though, and dangerous. It can turn on you quickly if you’re not strong enough. Some say that it’s more of a curse than a blessing, but we’re sworn to strict rules to keep others safe.”
AW COME ON MAN! Where else are you going to get that kind of chess match between a dragon and a mage?!! You aren’t. END. GAME. Except not end game.
Leading these Sirens is Queen Svarta, paranoid of Farden to at best, hateful of him at worst. However, she nor readers can deny the friendship and warmth that grows between Farfallen and Farden over the course of The Written. As Farden and Farfallen work together to strengthen each others’ powers together in preparation of the fight ahead, their bond only grows.
Plot wise I can’t say much more without giving away a many punch to the gut as the battle begins. While there is one character that you can see coming as a trader. Another character’s double betrayal slapped me so hard it left me with whiplash.
About Ben Galley? I could say a lot. I could beg him to write a whole book of vampire poetry.
Those of special circumstance, can find themselves alone, by the field the house the mountain crag, the blood begets the bone.
Friend of foes, and fair thee well, watch out for shadows black, for darkness comes to them too soon, wing’d teeth, bared blades, and trap.
They want what is different, but as all, we want the same, thus blood becomes the birthright, and thy night becomes thy shame.
They judge us by the difference. They judge us from thy teeth. But we watch their necks, we’ll string them up, and leave them there to bleed.
Galley’s craft for dialogue and action are impeccable. The structure of having excerpts teasing the theme of each chapter also gives the reader background. This gives The Written, the first book of the Emaneska Series, room to breathe, to not take twenty pages to describe a tree and not get lost in too much description without dialogue and action. It doesn’t drag or lose momentum. It shoots out and doesn’t stop. The structure in which the book is written, I believe is key to that accomplishment.
Beware the monster behind the door, watch out for the spiders all over the floor.
Be brave like your father, proud of warrior and all,
Something is gnawing at bones in the hall.
Maybe you’ll run, or maybe you’ll fight,
Maybe sleep soundly all through the night.
Never you mind, now close your eyes,
Pray you sleep well, not be food for the flies.
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Ben Galley is an author of dark and epic fantasy books who currently hails from Victoria, Canada. Since publishing his debut The Written in 2010, Ben has released a range of award-winning fantasy novels, including the weird western Bloodrush and the epic standalone The Heart of Stone. He is also the author of the brand new Chasing Graves Trilogy.