SPFBO Review: The Gods of Men by Barbara Kloss

The Gods of Men cover image

This is the latest in a series of unofficial, unaffiliated reviews of the top 10 finalists of the 2018 SPFBO contest. The contest is over and the winner declared, and the new contest is already underway, but here I am still plugging away at my reviews. This one came in tied for second with Devin Madsen’s We Ride the Storm (my review of which you can read here). As with We Ride the Storm, I thought this one was an excellent book worthy of acclaim.

The Gods of Men tells the story of two main characters: Imari (aka Sable) and Jeric (aka Jos). Blessed with the ability to use magic in a desert kingdom where magic is strictly forbidden, Imari is horrified when she accidentally kills her younger sister. Fleeing in guilt, she takes up the identity as Sable, an apprentice healer in a remote village far from home.

Jeric is the younger prince of Corinth, and is the king’s feared soldier and enforcer as well as his son. When his elder brother and corrupt heir to the throne sends him on a mission, ostensibly to help their ailing father, he leaves in the guise of a common soldier to seek none other than Sable — with little care as to whether she actually wants to come with him.

Jeric and Imari endure many hardships on their journey back to Jeric’s homeland, and yet a sort of bond of friendship begins to grow between them, maybe even romance. But when both of them are hiding such important secrets from one another, it is inevitable that things will go badly when the truth is revealed.

I quite enjoyed my time spent reading this book. The characters are well-rounded, and I could always understand their motivations and why they behaved the way they did. Jeric and Imari’s unlikely friendship-maybe-romance grew organically and made sense, and was in general a pleasure to read about.

The worldbuilding on the surface on the surface is fairly boilerplate Medieval Fantasy, with the bulk of the action taking place in a European-type setting, although the protagonist herself comes from a desert-dwelling Asian-type culture. The magic system was really compelling, however, with  spells cast by playing songs on a magic flute. I feel like music-based magic systems are something that are talked about a lot in fantasy circles, but we don’t actually get to see all that often.

My only real complaint is I wish we got to see more of the magic system in this particular book. Imari casts magic in the beginning, to horrific results, and then is afraid to try and cast magic ever again until almost the end of the book. She goes through a desperate montage of sorts to try and learn her powers near the end, but I did think the whole thing was unfortunately a bit rushed. The ending felt a little rushed in general — when the “real” villain was revealed, a bit of the emotional impact was lost when I was left scratching my head to remember whether I cared about that character  at all.

Another minor gripe is that the gods mentioned in the title actually seem to play very little role in about 90% of the book. There is a religious order that causes problems for Imari and Jeric, but as far as I can tell their main role is just to be evil for the sake of being evil. Imari mentions hating the gods once or twice, but for something that’s mentioned on the cover blurb, there is very little god-hating going around.

These are small quibbles, however, and for the most part I enjoyed this book immensely. The pacing is good and, although I thought the ending could have been drawn out a bit more, I thought the book flowed along at a reasonable clip and there was never any point in the story when I was bored.

One part of the book that I sort of loved to hate was the corrupt prince, Jeric’s older brother. Being hedonistic, erratically tempered, and treating women like disposable tools, it was easy for me to draw the parallel in my head with a certain real world politician. I do not know if this was intentional on the author’s part or not. Perhaps it is just my own natural tendency to find patterns where there are none — this is not, after all, the first SPFBO finalist where I noticed the parallel between evil king and real world politician. I expect there might be a lot of them coming up in this day and age. Heck, I even wrote one myself, although that story in progress is on hiatus. Whether inspired by reality or not, however, the elder prince is a despicable villain and I quite enjoyed rooting for him to fail.

People who might like this book

  • Fans of innovative magic systems
  • People who like well-rounded heroes you can root for and slightly less well-rounded villains you can  root against
  • People who love certain romance tropes. You know the ones. I don’t believe the “only one bed” trope shows up in this one but it fell just short of it

People who might not like this book as much

  • People who want their villains to be a little more sympathetic
  • Anyone hoping for an actual romance novel (it’s not one, it just uses some of the tropes)

r/fantasy 2019 bingo squares

  • Self-Published
  • Local author for Northern California