“A memorable modern fantasy in a classically ancient world, about the burden of great power, the emotional chasms of war and the love that might bridge the divide.”
Siregar designed his own cover and it clearly displays his creative talent. You can instantly see what you are getting: a carefully crafted and appealing work about a beautiful girl who is partly shadowed by her classic armour. It promises battles, heroes and love, with the mood of an ancient Greek epic … and it delivers!
It has a strong plot, clear character development and a confident youthful tone. If you want to wield godlike powers against formidable foes yet feel very human, then The Black God’s War is a fine example of indie fantasy that explores classic territory in a new way and blends epic with emotion.
In keeping with the style of the Iliad, there’s an ongoing swords-and-sandals battle, sometimes offstage, that spans most of the book. The action is focused on one citadel and doesn’t really escalate to the scale of a war, but this prevents bloodshed from overwhelming the story. The battles are used more as a setting for the lead characters to have encounters and develop ideas about each other.
Instead we move swiftly towards, then in and out of the front line, learning things from the perspective of the main characters. Although the magic of the gods and those in their thrall strays into mythical territory without much science to convince the sceptics, this is in keeping with the Homeric mythology, where ten gods would perhaps seem economical and their restrained behaviour rather more modern than divine.
The empathy with which we are shown the three main characters allows us to be drawn along in the flow of the narrative. True to the legend that inspired it, the world feels like ancient Greece at war with ancient India, with plenty of clashing swords, bitter kings, discontent royal children and interfering gods. However with Siregar’s modern version we get better character development, enlightening first-person-perspectives and sensitively scribed sex.
For me, an outstanding aspect of the writing was the depiction of the intimidating, hardened veterans whose hatred has kept the neighbouring lands locked in a seemingly eternal war, and the fact that the reason for the war has been forgotten (as with many prolonged wars throughout history, the war continues on the momentum of racial hatred guided by stubborn egotistical rulers). The psychic warfare becomes more interesting as the story develops but perhaps offers too much power with too little explanation. The metaphysical elements, if a bit illogical, allow for an exploration of the relationship between humankind and its gods. The gods seemed somewhat undeveloped and appeared to interfere only occasionally, but for simplicity, keeping them in the background is probably wise.
There are few flaws, of more interest to writers than readers, and impossible to discuss without revealing crucial plot elements. The cover is perfect, but it defines the lead character so clearly that I had a double-take every time Lucia’s hair colour was defined otherwise in the text. Vermilion? Is that necessary? It clashed with the expectations of classic beauty set up by cover, and seemed to be more suited to an anime series, an influence which surfaces again in combat scenes.
The messianic prince Ciao is well developed and admirable, but he loses credibility when the author attempts to shoehorn his choices into the pattern of the Iliad. If you write Achilles to be someone other, then his choices will reflect his own character. Achilles was propelled by vainglorious wrath. When Ciao wants revenge this is laid upon his deep intrinsic compassion and peace-loving nature, so his behaviour doesn’t ring true at times. It’s perhaps a good idea to use an existing legend only as a starting point, and to allow your unique characters to lead the story along new paths, to a completely different and truer end. This is a continued problem for any author when trying to follow a plot as character motivations drive them in a divergent direction.
It could do with a polish to smoothen out the occasional copy-editing slips and inappropriate adjectives. These editorial suggestions are minor, on the whole the story is an engaging narrative that weaves together various storylines in well-balanced imagined world, with a steady progression of events that lead to a smashing climax.