Book Review: J.F. Lewis – Worldshaker (The Grudgebearer Trilogy)

Worldshaker is an epic fantasy novel from The Grudgebearer Trilogy, written by J.F. Lewis.
By Cape Rust

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Uled who created the made-for-war Aern, the plantlike Vael and the reptilian Zar is getting ready to implement his plan to return from the dead. He is going to accomplish this using an army of undead to destroy everything in his way. Princk Rivvek has forged a fragile alliance between his people and the Aern, at the cost of his capitol city and a majority of his military who to achieve this “peace” he had to send on a suicide mission. The aim of this suicide mission is to rescue the lost command a group of 100 Armored Aern who went through the portal gates to fight the enemy in the Never Dark to try to end and win the Demon War. He feels that this action will finally after of hundreds of years help gain the trust of the Aern and his people will no longer be known as oathbreakers. Meanwhile in the afterlife Kholster has become the god of death and is working with the other deities to bring balance to the afterworld to help stop Uled. If he fails all that he loves in the mortal world will be destroyed.

If the description of this book seems a little confusing, you are not alone. If this is the first you have heard of the Grudgebearer Trilogy stop right here, right now. Go back and read the first two books. Go back and read them because they are well written books that take place in a comfortably unique fantasy world. Read them because this world and the situations that drive this story are layered and complex. Trying to start on book number three will only make you hate a wonderful series; you will be beyond confused. There were several times when even after reading the entire series and reviewing them, I was still confused. I read and reviewed the second book in the series Grudgebreaker right before it came out, so there was a gap of many books between it and Worldshaker. If I had the time I would have been well served to re-read the first two books before tackling this one, but we all know how that goes.

Lewis is a wordsmith, he is a great writer. The world he has created for this series is tabletop RPG worthy. Complex relationships between several races and three of those races created by a member of the fourth. His ability to integrate modern concepts and “technologies” into this high fantasy world is as subtle as it is brilliant. Some of the Aern are called overwatches and they have the ability to share what they see with other Aern, especially the leadership. Their views are much like the “radar” window you see in video games.

While this and many other concepts are really cool, this book is complex to the point of being confusing. Each of the suits of armor many of the Aern wear are living, so they have names. At a few points in the story, those names change, and when you have an aern inside a living suit, the dialogue between the two combined with the dialogue between other characters in other living suits convolutes the situation even more. Each race feels unique, and because of those unique abilities it is more for the reader to keep track of. Then when dealing with Kholster, who is now a god things get even stranger, he can go everywhere and even stop time. At some points he creates many copies of himself to handle all of the god things he has to accomplish. So many of the conflicts are happening in so many locations with so many players involved that while Lewis did a great job of keeping everything together from a writer’s standpoint, from a reader’s standpoint the first part of this book was a confusing, complex hot mess.

Things start to become clearer as you get closer to the final battle, but even then confusion is still a factor. So many of the races are intertwined and some members of at least one of the races can change sexes, and one of them even morphs into something much greater. Once I got back into the story, the characteristics of the races came back to me and the confusion was lessened a bit.

One of the greatest problems I have with this series is the lack of set up or good descriptions of many of the gods with whom Kholster interacts with, kills, or takes away part of their portfolio. Some of the major players got some mention in the earlier books, but I felt so disconnected from them and what they stood for or how they actually acted that I didn’t really care what happened to them or felt like what was happening was really all that important. For the record, some of it was important and I’m sure I missed some well-crafted plot points.

While the overall ending of this story is predictable, Lewis still manages to make it unique and “his”. I enjoyed this series and I feel like when I reread the series back-to-back-to-back, I will pick up on some of the things I missed or possibly forgot. I think like some Netflix-series-binge re-reading this series might make this series even better. I was so impressed with the first book, the second book, like The Empire Strikes Back, kept me wanting more and Worldshaker tied everything together. Yes I understand that is how trilogies work, and this one more than did its job. Lewis has gained a fan in me and I look forward to seeing what he does next. This world still has legs, but to be honest I want to see what else he can come up with in a different world. This series felt fresh and lively and while many of the ideas are new or unique, none of them felt gimmicky, well played J.F. Lewis!

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