This review originally appeared on 80 Books Blog!
3 out of 5 stars ★★★☆☆
Among humans, none have power like mages. And among mages, none have will like Sal the Cacophony. Once revered, now vagrant, she walks a wasteland scarred by generations of magical warfare. The Scar, a land torn between powerful empires, is where rogue mages go to disappear, disgraced soldiers go to die and Sal went with a blade, a gun and a list of names she intended to use both on. But vengeance is a flame swift extinguished. Betrayed by those she trusted most, her magic torn from her and awaiting execution, Sal the Cacophony has one last tale to tell before they take her head. All she has left is her name, her story and the weapon she used to carved both.
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I was excited to review this new book by Sam Sykes. He has a strong sense of world building from his previous work (I reviewed City Stained Red here) and I think he has a hilarious Twitter presence.
What I did like:
- Revenge narrative
- Horror elements
- Lesbian (or possibly bi) protagonist
- mish-mash of magic, machines, western themes
The entire revenge narrative and plotting were very strong for me. I could feel the seething and hate with every move. It literally ruined the one good relationship Sal had! I liked how the backstory unfolded and I especially liked the “confession” storytelling device. Some of my favorite books are the “story within a story” narratives!
When I say horror elements, I’m referring to the monsters that are created in the Scar by magic gone wrong. For instance, Sal and co come across some nith hounds, which are half people and half dog, but it’s not a direct half, there are some hands for paws, faces for nostrils, unnatural swaps, but always vicious. Other creepy monsters include a scrath, that is a being from another dimension that is implanted into a person’s body. But the possession of the body is unnatural, and described with long limbs, rippling skin (ek!), and half a face that is twisted the wrong way! :O Like take an image of a nightmare and put it on the page!
Shout out to the LGBTQ rep here. It’s not implicitly stated one way or another, but it is implied that Sal’s former relationship was with a man who betrayed her, and her current relationship is with a woman (they kiss!).
What I struggled with:
- The cover
- The title
Sal the Cacophony carries a gun that has magical bullets called Cacophony. The cover should have her carrying a gun! Jeff the sword is not magical and not considered a “character” in the same way the Cacophony is. Also what is this illustration?? It doesn’t make sense and really turns me off from the book. If I’m judging a book on its cover, this is not appealing. The face is realistic, but the harsh colors are illustrated? I’m not sure what it is trying to convey–even after I’ve finished reading it.
The title is also a bit misleading. Is it a reference to Sal’s past trauma? There’s no indication in the story why the title is what it is. I’m sorry, but this frustrates me.
Sal is an angry gal, no doubt about it, so when the book is just all anger and internal conflict, it starts to get repetitive. Further, I didn’t think I was reading a woman’s perspective. The POV was 3rd person limited, and I felt that Sal’s thoughts read more as a man than a woman. The beginning was especially challenging because she’s basically acting like a stereotypical fantasy male character. It’s not that this is wrong, but I just felt that I didn’t have a sense of the character to distinguish her from a male voice.
My last frustration had to do with the end of the book and the availability of portals. I can’t really go into detail here because of spoilers, but basically I didn’t understand how Sal knew where they were or how they worked.
So overall, I liked this. I would read the sequel. I think that Sal is an interesting character and I like the world building that is happening here. I can kind of see where the series is going and I’m interested in following it. I don’t think Sal is the typical hero and I appreciate that. I do also want her to get revenge and reclaim what was once hers, so I’ll have to wait and find out!