Title: Ghost & Weregild (Wolf’s-own #1-2)
Author: Carole Cummings
Length: approx. 150k words each
Genre: m/m Fantasy
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 2 – Few and Far Between
Keywords/Tags: epic, gods, magic, tragic hero, assassins/mercs, multiple romances, ultimate antagonist
Rating: LOVED IT!!!!!!!
Ghost: Dwelling in the land of Ada and defending magic users called the Jin, Fen Jacin-rei is a trained assassin and an Untouchable, one whose mind hosts the Voices of the Ancestors, spirits of long-dead magicians. His fate should be one of madness and solitude, yet Fen Jacin-rei desperately clings to his sanity and ferociously protects the family he loves. But how does Fen do it? Kamen Malick has every intention of finding out.
When Malick and his own small band of assassins ambush Fen in an alley, Malick offers Fen one choice: join us or die. Determined to decode the intrigue that surrounds Fen—and to have the Untouchable for himself—Malick sets to unraveling Fen’s past while Fen delves into the mysteries surrounding Malick.
As Fen’s secrets slowly unfold, Malick is drawn into a crusade that isn’t his, one surprisingly similar to his own quest for vengeance. Yet irony is a bitter reward when Malick discovers the one he wants is already hopelessly entangled with the one he hunts.
Weregild: The amorality of gods makes it hard to tell bad from good and right from wrong. Fen Jacin-rei doesn’t care. All Fen cares about is saving his family, and he’ll sacrifice anything that gets in his way. Including his own soul.
No longer willing to wait for the machinations of the gods’ minions, Fen accepts the trade Kamen Malick offers. Together they set out to rescue Fen’s family and kill the man who betrayed them. But Fen is an Untouchable, one whose mind hosts the spirits of long-dead magicians, and with Voices of the Ancestors screaming in his head, Fen finds it harder and harder to stave off madness.
Malick has his own reasons to hand over everything Fen wants and equally compelling reasons to withhold everything Fen needs. In over his head with his timing as bad as ever, Malick must devise a way to do his god’s bidding without breaking his god’s laws—and keep Fen sane and on Malick’s side in the bargain.
Oh Carole! What are you doing to me!?
I remember when I read Aisling, Carole’s first published series, how amazing she was at characterization, especially in creating a tragic hero. Here, with Fen Jacin-Rei she created an even more tragic one, with deeper motivations and a fuzzier moral compass. Even though I love the true works of art she creates, I still felt blown away finishing the first two books of this series, which are really one complete story (just as 3 and 4 are the same). And the most amazing thing about it is how humble Carole is, like I wasn’t reading this book with a sense of awe at the worlds and characters she creates, that just seem so… fluid, so thoroughly settled in their world. All of the books she writes are about characters that bring the world to life around them, instead of a unique world that tells us about the people in it. That direction toward characters and allowing them their room to grow, to fall in love (or not) make this not a romance, but a study of characters that happen to be in a fantasy world and happen to fall in love, in their own way. That truly baffles me, how she’s able to do that and it all comes across the page so easily. I swear, I’ll never get tired of reading her work.
Okay, now that my gushing is over I’ll try to get on to a bit about the story (I could talk all day — in fact I could analyze the shit out of this like I really want to but I know you all don’t want to sit here and end up reading a dissertation, nor should you, that would take away the mystery).
Ghost and Weregild are set in the land of Ada, whose native residents, the Adan, have subjugated the race of the Jin for fear of their magic and annexed the country of Jejin into their own. Now the Jin are a dwindling race living in internment camps and periodically raided for those hiding magic. Those with magic are Disappeared. The Jin before the war that brought them down were ruled by their Ancestors — spirits of those that came before them who were themselves descended from gods. When the magic of the Jin and land of the Jejin was breached, the Ancestors went mad, and the once revered Jin who could hear their voices — the “Untouchables” — went mad with them from having the raving collected voices in their minds. Tradition among the Jin, and the Adan who before the war had intermarried with them and their customs, held that the Untouchables still couldn’t be touched, for who could say they knew the wisdom of the ancestors and by touching one might alter the path that was already set in motion? So over a hundred years after the war, no one may alter the course of an Untouchable, even if that raving Untouchable were beating you in the street, you would not lift a finger to defend yourself.
However, there are those that would alter the fate of an Untouchable, so cruelly nicknamed Ghosts. A family who would shelter one, or someone who might harness the power of one. Because the war between the Jin and Adan upset the balance of the gods, and the agents who work for them, the Temshiel and the Maijin, serve to reset that balance, and curry favor for themselves in the balancing, even though the gods themselves are fickle, sometimes quiet, and seemingly always at war among each other. Like pieces on a chessboard, the Temshiel and the Maijin can only move in the way their gods command them, and they each serve different ones. For a Ghost placed among such mass manipulation, can there even be free will, even for one supposed to heed the wisdom of now raving spirits?
Well, you can see from that long, yet still very superficial setup that this story contains circles within circles. The characters all have to make difficult choices because there are no good ones. There are so many hands fighting for control of Fen, the Ghost at the fulcrum of the near future machinations of the gods, and even the ones that would seem good and caring have their own agenda. It is a harsh, cruel world, where punishment against ones gods means going to the suns and never being reborn. It is a world where there is no “fair”, no matter how much Fen might dream of it, because the gods themselves are not fair, and they as agents are consequences of the gods.
I want to talk a bit about the characters, while I’m talking about how sad their prospects are 😉 We have Fen Jacin-Rei of course, known by different names by different people. Fen is the product of his making and of subtle and deliberate manipulation from the Ultimate Aantagonist (because he is). The outside stoicism and underlying barely-held strength Fen has in the face of so much impossibility he’s expected to make possible is heartbreaking, especially in the light of everything we slowly learn he’s been through. Every revelation nearly broke my heart, and even though it has forged him into a weapon which could easily be just as soul-damningly terrifying as stunningly heroic, that fine edge of uncertainty allows his fortitude to shine through. Then there is Malick — of questionable background and leader of a rag-tag group of assassins (Samin, who I LOVE, Shig and Yori). It takes the better part of both books to understand his true purpose, as it does for him to understand it as well. Yet, for someone who perhaps shows the world a person of questionable morality and often ruthlessness, is quite piercingly idealistic himself. The natures Fen and Malick show the world around them are startlingly different, and their façades immediately repel the other. It makes for a delicious friction between the two, both professionally and romantically. The rest of the group are all so much more than secondary characters, many full characters with offered POV themselves. I have so little time to talk about them, but in particular I loved Samin, as well as Joori, though I really did love them all in their own way. I don’t see how you couldn’t.
I see so much growth in Carole’s writing from Aisling to Wolf’s-own. There is a noticeable shift into a more adult mindset from that series to this one. I see how, when I didn’t understand before, just why Aisling was a YA series, if only in the room that shift allowed her characters to grow — a subtle shift from innocence against the world to a jaded kind of innocence still fighting for survival. It has little to do with sex, or romance of any kind, but more I think with a different minset from the characters (not maturity, per se, but maybe life experience). That shift really allows the story to follow it’s natural progression, a story which from the outset dealt with a somewhat harsher slice of life, just like as with age and wisdom choices become muddled without the stark black and white surety we have with youth. These characters look upon their situation with adult eyes, which makes their choices much more difficult. I don’t think that this story would have been successful if Carole hadn’t been able to make that shift, which for me, was one of the biggest growths I saw in the writing.
The first book, Ghost, is told in a very specific format of flashbacks. I normally abhor flashbacks. My little brain just can’t take all the back and forth sometimes. But I think I realized reading Ghost, that that wasn’t the case at all. What I can’t take are flashbacks that don’t serve a larger purpose, because I had no problem with these. They allow Carole to play with the delivery of information. To all of you who have ever read these books or the Aisling books, you know that this author isn’t one to give information to the reader idly — we have to work for it. The addition of flashbacks in a book that deals the most setup of the story means that we, the reader, are privy to certain bits of information before the characters. Most, of course, is still in Carole’s hands to be doled to us in precise fashion, but I liked the back and forth play that made me as a reader take a more active role in the story. I think that you might need to finish the first two books (to get a complete story) before you realize that, which is why I don’t necessarily blame anyone who bemoans the use of flashbacks, but I could see that they are there for a very specific reason and that they serve their purposes.
Lastly, I think there is something that needs to be said about the direction we approach this series as readers. They might be released from Dreamspinner Press, a publisher that we all know for publishing m/m romance. But, I think it is a fault of our own if we don’t approach this story with an open mind, and since that’s hardly the fault of readers, since most of us come from that community who read these books, I really think that everyone should know they’re in for an epic fantasy with some romance underneath, instead of a romance that deals in fantasy. There is a huge difference, and I’m not sure that if I didn’t understand that distinction if I would really appreciate these books the way they should be.
I really think that Carole has one-upped herself when I didn’t know if she could. I think everyone should read these, but then again, no story is for everyone. You really have to think with Carole’s writing — you cannot be an idle reader. And you have to have some patience. The story unfolds in it’s own way, and at an unhurried pace.
PS. I cried. No… I CRIED. But it was so worth it!