The Horns of Ruin by Tim Akers

The Horns of Ruin - Tim Akers

Now this book is the something different I've been looking for lately. It's a difficult read though, and I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it. I might even have to revisit this review at some point. It's a little like someone took religion (small r, generic), steampunk, aliens, the age of chivalry, urban fantasy and a modern world, and stuck it all in a blender. The only thing missing here is gobs of sex, to which I say thank goodness, it's actually nice to read a book now and then where there's virtually no romance (or boinking) at all. 


And this is a little hard to write about without explaining the world in some detail, so there might be spoilers, but I hope not. 

So, we have a world where the god(s) were once mortal, and became divine. And their scions, the monks and paladins who serve them, can invoke real physical powers. Depending on which of the gods you are dedicated to, that could be armour, fighting ability, or a weapon, or it could be the ability to read minds, or to heal wounds, or control others, or perhaps the ability to create complicated machines.


Add to this the knowledge that before humans and their gods were divine, came the Feyr, and before them, the Titans, neither of which were human. And that at the walls of your city mass the Rethari, another non-human race, perhaps with it's own yet to become divine gods among them. 


And set this all in a city where paladins and monks wield their power alongside clockwork and magic monorails and modern skyscrapers, as likely to be wearing jeans as a cloak and a sword. 


So to our plot: There once were three human brothers made divine, turned into living gods,  but now there is only one. One of the brothers, Amon, betrayed another, Morgan, and Amon was in turn executed by the third brother Alexander, leaving him the only living god, and the sole ruler of the city of Ash for the last century or so. 


Eva is the last paladin of Morgan, because few dedicate their children to dead gods anymore, and fewer still pass the trials. The Cult of Morgan is dying out, but she still has her duty, to protect the elders - and she fails spectacularly at it when unknown forces attack her and the leader of the Cult of Morgan in the street. It doesn't get better when the remaining elders are attacked in the assumed to be impregnable safety of their own monastery. Very soon Eva is left alone with only a young acolyte of Amon she doesn't trust, a mysterious artefact she doesn't understand, and the occasional help of one of Alexander's healer/policemen. And that's when she discovers she's stumbled into something that shakes the foundation of the entirety of human myth, religion and society, and she's the one who has to figure out what to do next.


So, yeah. Lots of religion, and it's provocative in many ways. What if divinity was bestowed on mortals? Would they be any good at it? Or would it be like the pantheons of old, all infighting and trickstering - I think the latter, clearly so does Akers. More interestingly he explores different ways it might happen, by showing us how the races before humanity handled it, for good or ill. There's really a lot to think about in this book, it's very cleverly done.


But, and it's a huge but, please don't think this is a big mass of religion masquerading as a fantasy book, it's not at all. It's a rollicking, action packed (and fairly violent), blend of high and urban fantasy (sword and sorcery IN a steampunk AND modern urban setting all at once!). People die, big and small decisions are made, friendships forged and torn asunder, mentors defrocked, again for good or ill, and it's a lot of fun to read. 


Bonus points for: As mentioned, no sex, but moreover, a rocking kick-ass (literally) heroine, as well as a kick-ass but in a very different way sidekick who is also a woman. And neither of them are mary-sue's and neither, when put in positions of danger, use their sexuality as a weapon nor have it used against them by any of the male cast. Eva is tough as nails, but makes mistakes, and owns them too when she realises. She's confident when it matters, but smart enough to be scared of the consequences of her actions, she doesn't blindly trust anyone - but she's not so stubborn she can't back off and trust her allies when she must.


And the writing is... special. I like it, it pushes my buttons, treading a fine line between exposition and show-don't-tell, but managing to do so without the hated "As you know, Bob..." dialog. It's got it's own language going on, but it's cute and not too hard to figure out: Bullistic for guns, (bullet + ballistic, obvs). There's a lot of quite neatly phrased invocations going on - actually those remind me of that one star trek episode where the aliens could only speak in metaphors invoking memory of ancient battles, in the style of "David, with a stone, in front of Goliath" to mean "small and weak taking on something big and scary". I wouldn't mind this one as an audiobook, but only if it had a really talented narrator who could really pull off those speeches.


Recommended for: Anyone looking for some urban fantasy with a real twist - this is a really unique mix. People who liked Dune (for no particular specific reason, it just had a vibe for me somehow, even if it's a completely utterly different setting.)

Not recommended for: fans of linear plots, anyone too rabidly anti-religion to bear in mind this is entirely fictional. People who like to keep all their genres separate.