Fiction Friday is a series where I talk about what I’ve been reading. Short Stories (and sometimes Novellas) are featured as in-between posts and the first Friday of the month will feature a new novel review. Today, I review Rise of the Red Harbinger by Khalid Uddin.
Fiction Friday: Rise of the Red Harbinger Review
Today’s Fiction Friday is a special one. I discovered this book from my writer’s group who advertised it to us. While the author isn’t a member, I figured I’d promote it for you. Today’s novel is Rise of the Red Harbinger by Khalid Uddin. You can find it here. To be fair, since this was from my critique group, I didn’t think much of it initially. Having read it, this could be one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read in a long time.
It’s got a good magic system, a diverse world, and a mythology that is not only biblical in nature but plays a central role in the story. It’s strongly recommended looking for a genuinely good epic fantasy story that isn’t just Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones 2.0.
So let’s begin.
The story begins with an execution, just to give you an idea of how dark the story is going to get. The main character, Baltazar Kontez, watches as his father is hung for a crime he didn’t commit. His anger incites his fiery power, but he doesn’t know it yet. Now, a mysterious man, names Rhadames Slade, asks him to head to the House of Darian, a holy site named after one of the creator’s followers, Darian. I’ll get to them in a moment because one of them is important to the plot (and the main villain).
Along the way, his brother, Bo’az, angered that Baltazar off to fulfill some goal goes back for the hero’s girl, but pretends to be his brother instead. This sends him down a horrible and karmic rabbit hole the likes of which I’ve never seen in a story before. Not only does the situation get worse, but even after he confesses, the situation grows worse by the minute.
The whole mission for Baltazar is to seek refuge in the House of Darian, a sanctuary for Descendants of Orijin, the creator, and learn about their powers. However the headmaster, Zin Marlowe, is making the descendants a pacifistic culture, something the rest of the descendants do not approve of since one of the harbingers, Jamash, is returning after a long period of isolation and no one feels confident to fight back unless they use their powers.
I don’t want to give too much since not only is this an amazing story, there’s too much to talk about. It’s a brilliantly told story that grips you from the first page.
The mythology is straight out of biblical teachings. Three chosen disciples of Orijin and Five others watched over the world, but one of them, Jamash, the main villain, betrayed everyone else. Darian flooded the world and created the drowned realm of Ashur. The book explains the mythology better than I can, but the mythology is hugely important and not a backdrop like in most works.
As far as the plot itself, it’s as insidious as it is enjoyable. There’s a clear line between good and evil and the evil characters are cruel and heartless to the point where you have to feel for the characters on the receiving end. Jamash is a powerful villain and is the creepy kind of evil that I love. The kind where the villain doesn’t have to do much to prove that he’s evil, like shout, laugh or do evil acts. He knows he’s evil and has no problem demonstrating it. His power is to control those if he gets into their heads. One example is that one character fails to bring the hero to him, so he controls him and forces him to gouge his own eyes out. By the time he releases his hold, he screams in agonizing pain.
I was in awe when I read his part because this is what I expect in a great villain. Someone who isn’t trying too hard to be evil.
The story itself is wonderful and it’s not so dark that it’s bleak. People are still lively even with their monstrous king ruining their world.
WAY too many to list. I can easily count twenty alone, so I’ll go over the ones that had a noticeable impact.
Let’s start with the lead hero, Baltazar Kontez. He’s barely into adulthood and witnesses his father die in front of a crowd. His anger unleashes his inner power, but no one, not even Baltazar himself, knows about it. Throughout the story, he explains to everyone around him what his goal is, to avenge his father, but as the story goes on, he starts to realize that there are bigger concerns at play than just seeking vengeance against his father.
The interesting plot point about him is that he lives in a small village called Haedon, but literally no one outside of his hometown knows where that is. Everyone assumes he’s a Shivanii person, (a dark-skinned human) and this drives the main character up a wall whenever he tries to explain where he’s from.
He’s a good character, though he is stubborn a lot. In fact, most of the characters are hard-willed to the point where so few of them tend to be level-headed in most regards. He still has that teen mentality, despite barely being adult, and his determination is admirable but lands him in hot water at times.
The next important one to talk about is the royal family, specifically Prince Garrison and King Edmund. These characters have an interesting dynamic that was jarring enough to show how insidious King Edmund is (my king character in my novel is King Edward, so I apologize if I slip his name in). To start, King Edmund hates descendants, but it’s not entirely clear why. Perhaps he sees them as monsters, which is why some inns have certain unique traits to allow these gifted people in.
I want to talk a bit about the inns because I find this a neat idea. The only way a descendant knows it’s safe is if the name has an L somewhere and the L extends down to resemble their lines on their heads. It’s a neat touch that didn’t need to be there, but it’s nice to add.
Anyway, King Edmund isn’t just cruel, he’s beyond heartless and I immediately got King Joffrey Baratheon vibes from him. Cruel, loud and has no sense of composure. Even when Prince Garrison tried to convince his father, he made the controversial decree to sentence him to death. Even when one of his men proposed to give mercy, he killed him for even offering the suggestion.
The only thing though is, despite being mentioned periodically throughout the story, this is the only significant scene he appears in. It’s a stressful scene showing the king’s abusiveness and sheer madness, but the rest of the focus is on Garrison. Perhaps he’ll get a bigger role later on, but there wasn’t much besides that one scene.
The other notable one is Zin Marlowe, the headmaster of the House of Darian. He’s supposed to be the kind, caring headmaster, however you get a sense that he’s far more adamant about his policies than he lets on. Most of these characters would be forgiving if stern, but this guy seems to be just as brash as the others. The other students do combat training in hiding because he forbids it.
I don’t want to give too much away, but he’s not a very respected leader if his students are defying him so openly, and his harshness suggests he has a deeper motive than just forcing them to be pacifists.
And finally, I want to discuss Jamash further in depth. He’s an amazing and sadistic villain, matched by his composure, a stark contrast to King Edmund. He believes that those who follow Darian are destined for violence and have no future. He’s on an island far away from Ashur, which is the first suggestion that there’s even life outside of the drowned realm.
His attitude in displayed in his authority. I’ve mentioned it before, but the sequence with his subjects is a perfect display of his character. He’s become one of my favorite fantasy villains, and a good example of how villainy should be portrayed. Not too overbearing, but the perfect kind of horror you’d expect from his type.
The writing’s excellent. Nothing dragged on, but I will warn that many of the chapters are long. I tend to be a slow reader, but even so, the story pushes in important scenes without too much filler. I applaud the author for balancing length with story. It’s not an easy thing to do, especially for the fantasy genre, I got a clear vibe of the world, and the description was just enough that I didn’t lose focus.
The mythology is wonderful and engaging. Aside from magic and mythical beasts, I judge fantasy worlds by their mythology as well. I feel a lot of mythology is either in the background (they exist, but mortals can’t interact with them) or rarely mentioned at all. I don’t see that many where the myth is part of the story. I can see this being a battle where all of the remaining followers of Orijin duke it out, but I don’t know enough of the world to justify the future.
So if you’re looking for an amazing fantasy story, I’d recommend this. It’s action-packed, it’s got a good magic system, a mythology that plays a role. It’s what I look for in fantasy stories. Do pick this one up. This author has a bright future ahead of him and I’m looking forward to book two.
Are you interested? Have you read it yourself? Let me know in the comments. Next month’s story is from a special video game developer whose creations inspired many of my own worlds.
That’s all for today. Take care, and remember, the inn is always open.
Got any suggestions for future topics and reviews? Hit me up on my social media channels and let me know your thoughts. I always read the feedback, even if I don’t respond, and every reply counts.