In the age of film adaptations and remakes, it may be hard to stand out from the crowd. The same can be said in literature with trying to create truly unique premises and stories. However, Ben Galley does just that is his latest work Chasing Graves. How? The main character is dead within the first chapter.
Chasing Graves is the first in a trilogy. Based in the city of Araxes the city of countless souls, the story predominantly follows Caltro Basalt. A locksmith called out to the city on business, he has the unfortunate luck of meeting the business end of a dagger and having his soul enslaved. After being sold to a rich noble, Caltro struggles to survive and gain his freedom. The book isn’t just told from his perspective: a soulstealer – criminals who murder people then sell their ghosts illegally – named boss Temsa seeks to make a name for himself however he can, Sisine the emperor’s daughter seeks to take the throne for herself, a woman named Nilith drags the corpse of her husband across the desert to reach Araxes at all cost, and the gods who were once thought dead are reappearing.
The plot is lovingly well written. Dark, gory and enthralling, the narrative goes at a decent pace, taking its time to flesh out the world while keeping the plot moving along. Galley has a knack for writing with very descriptive language which transports the reader into the story, and though the city of Araxes and the surrounding Far Reaches is a brutal and unforgiving world, populated by people who would kill you if it meant advancing their own personal greed, it is still a very interesting world to explore. Additionally, one of the key mechanics of this world – the binding of the dead – is well explained and it doesn’t take too long to comprehend how it works.
While most of the characters are fleshed out to varying degrees, Caltro is one of the more interesting protagonists in literature: he’s not a young man who seeks a better life from his home or a warrior in search of glory and riches. In life, he was a thirty something man with a fast tongue, a fondness for beer and food, and a sharp mind which continues to serve him after death. Additionally, Caltro goes into the knowledge of his trade at points, which may leave the reader questioning what Galley does besides writing.
The other supporting characters are memorable in their own way, particularly for their different ambitious approaches: Temsa tactically explores his gains through vicious murdering and blackmailing, having a fondness for brutally punishing his lackeys by impaling them with his gold claw foot. Though surrounded by power hungry nobles, Sisine silently schemes while ruling the kingdom in her father’s stead and Nilith risks life and limb against the elements and bandits alike, stubbornly driven to bind her husband whatever it takes.
A small but interesting addition to the book is actually towards the end: after the end of the story, Galley offers a small playlist full of songs which ‘inspired, fuelled, and otherwise invigorated me during the writing of the Chasing Graves Trilogy.’ An interesting addition to a book, but not an unwelcome one.
Review copy provided
Chasing Graves is a gory and exciting beginning to a promising trilogy. Unapologetic in its language, detailed in its description, and overall a morbidly fascinating story to read, it is highly recommended to pick up this truly dark and compelling entry where death is only the beginning of your problems.