Ryan Collins reviews Wise Phuul by Daniel Stride.
Many thanks to the author for providing a free review copy.
Walking corpses and black-market liquor: the quiet life.
Telto Phuul, Necromancer and Library Clerk, likes his days safe and predictable. Not for him the intrigues of the Viiminian Empire, a gothic monstrosity held together by sheer force of will.
Until the Empire’s dreaded secret police come knocking. Caught in a web of schemes in the diseased heart of Kuolinako, the underground Imperial capital, Telto can trust no-one. Not the Northern theocrats who abhor Necromancy, and certainly not the Grand Chancellor, whose iron-fisted rule has kept the old order alive that little bit longer.
When one false step means torture and disappearance, this journey will change our Necromancer forever.
Family, friendship, and social class lie at the heart of powerful storytelling. Stride delves deep into the hearts and minds of his characters, revealing moral fortitudes that are perfectly balanced with personality flaws and desire for self-preservation. Engaging, subtle and provocative, this is fantasy steampunk that deserves to be read again and again. Wise Phuul is the story of one man’s journey to save himself, his friends, and (by coincidence only), his society.
I was very excited to learn that this book was being published. Daniel Stride is an insightful writer, with some interesting things to say about the fantasy genre. As such, I’ve been eager for the chance to read this debut novel for myself.
Far and away the strongest aspect of Wise Phuul, for me, was the world. The cultures, histories, traditions, and taboos all have an authentic and multi-layered feel that lends credibility and nuance to the story. The political machinations and interplay of the various powers and forces within the world are a major driving point for the plot. While in the beginning there is a lot to keep up with, it all clicks together fairly smoothly about a third of the way through the book, and the story just takes you away from there.
The only downside to this is that it feels like a lot of the world-building is spoon-fed to the reader, and some of the early dialogue is a bit expositional. I typically absorb details better through natural immersion into the author’s world, which in this case, is a very compelling one.
Stride’s post-industrial fantasy world has a gritty, almost dirty feel to it. This seeps into the reader through the prose like a slow decay, sucking you in and refusing to let go. Necromancy being the primary form of magic in the story is the perfect mirror to the tone of Stride’s world. The fantasy trope of the evil necromancer is overturned in a world where taboos surrounding death and magic still play a major role in the story.
Overall I found Wise Phuul to be an enjoyable read. The characters are believable and compelling, with a wide and diverse range of personalities, and the writing is clever and insightful. Some bits were a bit slow going, but it’s an excellent introduction to a world that I hope to explore again in the future.