BOOK TWO: TEMPLES DIABOLIC
Ash is back at Exmortus Abbey, pursued by the White Demon, his only hope the mysterious key that was given unto his protection. Unfortunately he has no idea what the key is for or what he should do next. Steed is badly wounded and the Abbott seems to have gone mad following months of being trapped in the Abbey alone, but Ash knows the Abbott may have the answers he needs and so he has no choice but to try and coax information from the madman.
Old Bill, the trader that Ash met on his journey from Exmortus all those months ago, is alive and well in the Abbey, but he turns out to be more than just a beer and silk merchant. Sooner rather than later his behaviour pushes Ash to the limit of his patience, to detrimental consequence. Things go from bad to worse when a mysterious stranger from Ash’s distant past appears in Exmortus. The odds are rapidly stacking up against our young hero.
With danger so close and his friends missing Ash is left truly alone with no one to watch his back and only his wits to lead him this time. His journey will be bleaker and more difficult than anything he has faced up to this point, and with only his trusty horse, Vex, he sets out to discover the secret of the key and face the demons of his past.
The pace of Exmortus 2 is excellent; the action picks up straight away from where events were left off at the end of book one and doesn’t let up until the end, making this another great page turner in the series. The compromise to this fast pace is that on occasion the story lurches forward in time from scene to scene and it sometimes felt like the jump was a little too fast, the pace being forced onwards perhaps rather than naturally progressing and giving the reader time to come to terms with the conclusion of each chapter before the next crisis began.
The humorous tone of the writing works well again in contrast to the violent and guttural aspects of the narrative, but I did feel that with Steed taking a much lesser part in this book the overall feel was darker and at times I missed the crude banter and witty frustrations that Steed’s character brought to book one. Ash suffers just as much in this story but his lack of steady companions for much of the narrative made his journey seem too arduous to contemplate at times, and it was perhaps harder to root for him when survival seemed so unlikely.
The positive side of this was that Ash’s character was developed even more in this book, and by the end of it the reader had much more of a sense of his self, his desires and his weaknesses rather than just seeing his self-centred attitude. Through this portrayal it becomes evident how much he has grown through the series so far. The continuation of Ash’s internal monologue being available in the narrative works fantastically in illustrating this character development, because the reader is right there in his head throughout the story and is seeing his reactions to events firsthand.
Violent and dark deeds abound in this story and I felt the horror elements were stronger in this book than the first instalment giving it a definite darker tone overall. This series would be enjoyed by readers who like work at the gritty edge of the genre and who aren’t afraid to face the baser aspects of life and human behaviour.
This is a strong follow up and the final instalment looks set to wind up the characters’ journeys as well as giving some more definition and understanding of the relationships between the characters for the reader. Steed and Ash certainly have unresolved business and I look forward to finding out how things will end between them as much as I do the wider story.