Chasing Graves by Ben Galley (Book Review)
“This is your lot now. Save us from your witty jibes and smart remarks. You’re dead. Hurry up and get used to it.”
The moment I first heard the elevator pitch for Chasing Graves, I knew I wanted to read it. Sometimes books just do that to you—and a book in which the main character dies in the opening pages, I mean, how can you say no to that?? So when the very generous Mr. Galley offered it up in advance of publication, I’m not at all embarrassed to say that I responded with the equivalent of GIMME.
Reader, I wasn’t disappointed.
Chasing Graves is a dark, witty romp—delightful, original, and beautifully paced, it oozes confidence.
There, that’s my catchy blurb done.
Galley writes with easy assurance, obviously enjoying himself. Though I had only read a short story of his prior to this book, I can’t help but feel that this is an author who has found his stride here with this story, the voice, the characters, all of it. You know an author is feeling it in all the best ways when they can throw in a descriptor like this without a worry: “…her chin now permanently affixed to her shoulder.” It ought not to work, but it does.
Galley’s writing is a pleasure throughout, sprinkled with just as many lovely phrases (“skull-faced moon”) as sarcastic remarks (“I’m a falcon, Princess. I’m pretty fucking fast.”). The blend of serious and snark works well. I also enjoyed catching a couple references (the blue Danube, a one-eyed god spending nine days and nine nights learning secrets) and the name of a fictitious book that I like to imagine was inspired by Gilderoy Lockhart’s Magical Me. Don’t burst my bubble, Ben, please.
“Unfortunately, saliva didn’t seem to be a ghost’s forte, despite all the mist and vapour.”
Each PoV is distinct and the shift between the first-person voice (Caltro) and third-person characters was so smooth and natural that I hardly even noticed. Caltro is the star of the show, of course, and I couldn’t help but feel there’s a good deal of Ben in that voice. But the other PoVs aren’t just bit parts. Of particular delight was a late chapter in which Sisine and Temsa meet at last. We see the scene from Sisine’s point of view and Galley does a fine job making sure we know Sisine is convinced she’s won the little parlay, all while leaving me with the strong suspicion that she’s been played for a fool—and yet I demure from being confident in that assessment simply because Galley is clearly in control of the situation.
Galley also demonstrates he’s in control of the world he’s created. It’s, to be concise, fascinating and, dare I say, quite unlike others I’ve encountered. Most likely you’ll experience it as a breath of fresh air.
I’ll admit to feeling some frustration with Nilith’s storyline. I generally tend to prefer when PoV characters interact—even if only a little—so the ties binding the narrative taking place in Araxes were naturally going to bind me to the story more efficiently. I had the hazy notion that something big was coming at the end of Nilith’s arduous journey, but I was impatient and wanted it sooner—until realizing what it was. Galley rewards a patient reader in Chapter 22 with a well-executed reveal. Frankly, I’m delighted I didn’t see it coming. While I was already looking forward to the second book, Grim Solace, this sparked that anticipation immensely. A host of new questions come tumbling out of the desert with Nilith, promising an intricate sequel full of double-dealing, back-stabbing, and general mayhem.
You can bet your half-coin I’ll be reading Grim Solace as soon as I can get my hands on it!