Review: A Prison of Flesh by Joshua Banker

FF’s Star Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

What are the lives of mercenaries worth against a great discovery? A Prison of Flesh is the second book in Joshua Banker’s Realm of Tah’afajien steampunk science fiction series, posing this very question while taking readers of the first book to brand new locations across the Great Sea. Knowledge might be beneficial to people in many ways, but perhaps some discoveries are best not made.

In a world where most people tend to believe lies rather than truth, two women find themselves members of a team of mercenaries on an expedition to a lava-coated island called Valkenistri. Jehn Brumal and Zoe Agilis. One had been studying in Chancel while the other, a mercenary, tried her hand at retirement. One of the people they are contracted to escort is Hollistier Thabies, the Assistant Custodian of the Evisran Library in Kit’abana, determined to reach the subterranean heart of Valkenistri and make a discovery even after knowing what already happened. Men were killed by inhuman creatures. They, too, can suffer the same fate.

The author explores familiar concepts regarding religion in an alternative world called Tah’afajien. A world home to two major faiths and special stones with magical properties called imbued ores. In some ways, Tah’ afajien is as modern and sophisticated as ours, but it is rather a rare and refreshing blend of modern and old.

Still young in her years, Jehn’s inquisitive nature allows her to get answers quickly while the older Zoe proves to be a highly observant mercenary. Jehn has a gift: she can feel energies that are within imbued ores, is sensitive to people’s collective emotions, and she can recharge imbued ores whenever these stones are depleted of energy. There is one type of imbued ore that she doesn’t know the function of. The one she got from Marianus O’mas, her mentor and one of the people she lost during the “natural disaster” that hit Trone Stenan. Her role in those subterranean halls of Valkenistri is bigger than she, or anyone who came with her, can predict. So is the nameless ore she carries along with her Rhepelles ore, the latter being one that can act as a force field when fully charged.

Brigant, one of the mercenaries, causes a small complication, one that the author resolves quickly, between Jehn and Zoe. Brigant is kind of Zoe’s nemesis while he doesn’t mind talking to Jehn. I connected more with this guy than I did with Jehn or Zoe. To be honest, Brigant, though the author might’ve portrayed the two women better in the previous installment, had more personality than Jehn and Zoe combined. Despite his career as a gun-for-hire, he is a bookworm. I liked that. Rambo with a book in hand, you know?

The author is amazing at describing his settings since he gives readers all the details they need to be able to see his fictional world in full. He is skilled at letting readers see a variety of colors while describing the interior of any place that a character might be in, also making sure to focus on the reader’s sense of smell where the opportunity allows to make a scene more real. There remains no doubt in me that the author is a first-rate world-builder.

Not long after having done battle with the inhuman creatures in the tunnels of Valkenistri and not without the adventurers getting their numbers trimmed down, a throne room is discovered which puts an all new spin on the plot. Interesting and utterly unexpected. I can only say that this spin has something to do with a friendship, or rather, two unlikely people in the group who have come to good speaking terms with one another and a small puzzle piece left in the very beginning of the book. Here, readers are bound to get answers regarding the validity of one of the major religions of Tah’afajien which those of us right here in the real world may or may not agree with.

Only bits of information are given about the events that took place in the previous book and the downside was that it made the protagonist a character that I couldn’t easily connect with because her past wasn’t detailed enough. Much later in the book, we learn more about her and what led her to Trone Stenan, which appeased me a bit, but when I consider that her dreams, which could’ve been utilized better to make me connect with her more, reveals little as well, I have to point the author’s limitation of information regarding the events of the previous book out as it’s biggest flaw.

“These dreams,” the author writes, “were often flashing slideshows of horror and violence, warped scenes of memories, presented with little coherence. It was a rare occasion when she would find herself conversing with those she had lost, but even their words failed to provide any solace.” If I could just have been taken in such a dream when Jehn found herself talking to one of the people she lost, perhaps then the author might’ve made it possible for me to feel her pain and relate to her on a deeply personal level.

This book is perfect for people generally fascinated by extinct civilizations who might’ve been way more advanced than we are today. Like the civilization of Atlantis, for instance, because Valkenistri can be seen as Tah’ afajien’s very own version of the island. Both the religious and the atheist will be touched. Whether you worship one god, multiple gods, or none, Joshua Banker’s exploration of the validity of the nature of the Byrael, a pantheon of gods, correlates with many debates about the validity of our own faiths, including that of the non-believer.

The novel’s slow pace should not take away from the fact that it is a magnificent work of science fiction. Not because of action, magic, or supernatural beings, but because it’s main focus is brilliantly executed before readers receive the proverbial icing on the cake. The last couple of chapters were nothing short of thrilling and I’m truly elated to have gotten to experience such profound seat-jumping unpredictability. I can only add this: it gets crazy at the end. Four FF Stars. One star lost because of Jehn, a protagonist I connected little with. I enjoyed the book despite this.

Kindle Edition:

Publisher: Author
Date Published: September 18, 2017
Genre: Steampunk
Pages: 371
View on Amazon

Published by Frank Frisson

Living in Cape Town, South Africa. People often tell me that I should get out more, but I'd rather read my brains out.

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