Faithless by Graham Austin-King
OVERVIEW: Faithless is Graham Austin King’s second major outing, following on from his debut trilogy Fae: The Riven Wyrd Saga. Faithless, a standalone self-published novel, is a grimdark low-fantasy for fans of Mark Lawrence, Anna Stephens and Peter V Brett.
Told through two point of view characters – Wynn, a newcomer-come-newbie-miner to the subterranean realm of Aspiration, and Khareos, a priest of the Forgefather – Faithless embodies the suffocating atmosphere of the mines its (mostly) set in, whilst somehow retaining a ‘breath of fresh air’ quality for readers looking for something a little different than the usual grimdark fair.
THE GOOD: Next-level world building, second-to-none level of detail and attention, sympathetic and believable characters, a claustrophobic atmosphere throughout, and a kicker of a twist.
THE BAD: There’s a balance to be struck with world-building, exposition, detail and descriptions, and at times this weighed too far to the heavy side for me, which in turn made the pace of the story suffer for it.
THE UGLY TRUTH: Faithless is one of those rare books that achieves exactly what it set out to do. It’s an uncomfortable read – but that’s a good thing. A sense of claustrophobia that pervades throughout, corrupt priests, a faith seemingly built on falsities, lies and hard labour, slavery, punishment, perversion and purity for the sake of progress. As I eluded to above, the story does suffer from some pacing issues, but it’s well worth persevering for the reward at the end. As the saying goes, ‘a diamond in the rough’, well this is a ‘diamond in the deepest and darkest of roughs’ there is – human nature.
People often ask ‘what is grimdark?’, and I feel that I could hand them ‘Faithless’ as an answer. It’s grim (an exploration of intimacy vs invasiveness, hope vs hardship, faith vs – well, it’s in the title, – faithlessness) and it’s dark (the exploration does lead down some pretty dark paths, oh, and it’s set in a mine…a mine!).
Faithless is told through the experience of Wynn, who is sold into slavery, and Khareos, a priest who arguably seeks to buy freedom through faith. Wynn is the author’s tool, in this case a miner’s pick, used to chip away at the world and explain its surface to the reader. Khareos is the hammer, And in this analogy, Khareos would be a hammer, a blunt edge swung with all his faith at the world, only to realize just how cracked it is. As with the two point of view characters, we also have two major settings: the mines and the temple. The plot is character driven, there’s no world-spanning adventure or big bad dark lord to defeat here, but the path it does tread is all the more intimate and invasive than an ‘action epic’.
Faithless takes the ‘quest-journey’ plotline found in most fantasy and inverts it. As the reader, this means that the book takes you on an inward journey, rather than out into the unknown. But sometimes, in the case of the unknown, knowing is worse than not knowing. The story dares to go deeper than the pits of the mines that it is set in, to the darkest parts of human nature. And in the darkest of places, where the light doesn’t shine, we do know what humanity is capable of…
On that note, and I think the ‘cool kids’ use the term ‘trigger’ for something like this, but if sexual abuse is a no-go for you, then consider yourself warned. Whilst it’s not graphic, it is present, but for a purpose, and not just ‘because of’. Considering these themes, and the setting, Faithless is not a comfortable read, but it is a good one!
Because of the level of attention and detail put into the worldbuilding, and maybe partly because the story is more personal than it is ‘big picture plot’, ‘Faithless’ does have some pacing issues, and I can empathise with other reviewers who ‘did not finish’ this book. However, that being said, the reward is well worth the reading.
CONCLUSION: Faithless is something a little different, a little darker, and a whole lot deeper than you’d expect. It’s not ‘just another grimdark’ novel, as it’s something a whole lot more than that. I enjoyed reading it, and whilst it’s not one of my personal favourites, I really do recommend that fans of grimdark and fantasy alike pick this up and try it.
Dare to be different.
Dare to have faith. Or in this case…
Dare to be Faithless.
This review appeared on Fantasy Book Critic on October 19th, 2017.