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Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite
The kingdoms of Daecland and Sunder and those who live within them create the landscape for the dark high fantasy novel Hælend's Ballad by Ian Conrey. The brutality of a war that splinters from a years-long occupation against the Sunderians by the Daecish. The depth of persecution and despair runs incredibly deep, the disparity between the haves and have-nots, and the system established both politically and underground are crushing to those below the upper echelons. The rise of the Silent Hither movement, initially crippled but once more growing in momentum, and the strength of its Dark Horses, are ready to fight back against all odds.
“With brothers, we march this day
For Theos, we shout and pray
Our hearts will kindle and burn
Though few of us return...”
Ian Conrey has undertaken a wildly ambitious project in his steampunk-medieval fantasy tome Hælend's Ballad. The book is expertly written with really gorgeous prose and some of the most authentic dialogue I've come across in a while in the genre. It is the restraint of Conrey's pacing and the focus on characters that truly elevate the story, both the mark of an exceptionally gifted storyteller. The sheer volume of characters requires a bit of homework on the part of a reader, at least at first, to keep them straight and play connect-the-dots with plots and subplots amidst a massive amount of finely-crafted military strategy. War crimes are courageously depicted with no holds barred, but without even entering the realm of gratuitous, and action scenes leap from the page. There is also a top layer of nuanced religious tones that is applied a' la Lewis, Dekker, and Tolkien. I'm not putting Conrey in the space of these titans right now, but this is a genuine 'sit and wait' moment with the world-building that has the potential to get at least 2/3 of the way there. Very highly recommended.