Review: How Black the Sky by T. J. Marquis
How Black the Sky is a fun, heavy metal romp following a band of warriors through epic battles to defend against an invasion of Underworld monsters! The action-driven plot underscores a refreshing, brawlier representation of Christianity than is typically seen in fiction. This story serves as the first in the Hero’s Metal series.
Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed How Black the Sky. I encourage you to check it out!
This review contains minor spoilers.
How Black the Sky Publisher Description:
Pierce – a brash young man with rare blessings of strength and really bad news.
Axebourne – the fatherly berserker with infectious laughter.
Scythia – calm and motherly, her Circlet of Knowing reveals secrets.
Agrathor – a mighty spearman with an electric personality
and a terrible skin condition.
Ess – Second only to the First Great Master of Convergent
Reality Theory. Pierce thinks she’s hot.
They are Gorgonbane. Once mercenaries, now heroes, they are the only thing standing between Overland and the horrid Monstrosities of the Underlord. His lust for power has reached its peak, but the coming invasion may not be exactly what it seems…
The world of Chasmgard is a place with endless secrets and a strange cosmology.
A deep red sun crawls across a canvas of black, and nobody remembers why. Landlocked by a depthless Chasm, Overland and the Underlands have always vied for power and land.
In How Black the Sky, we join a band of legendary warriors who may just be at the end of an age.
Each novel and short story in the Multiverse comes with a map and basic world statistics for use in roleplaying and other non-commercial gaming scenarios. We have included only basic stats that should be adjustable for any use you have!
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Heavy Metal Action
Heavy metal is not merely a genre label for this novel. According to his forward, T. J. Marquis intentionally designed his characters around the members of a heavy metal band and drew thematic inspiration from progressive metal.
This certainly comes through in the intense action sequences, which describe not only the efforts of the team, but also focus on the skill of an individual (like a solo) and how they interact with the others in friendly competition, pushing forward the power of the band as a whole.
As a result, the battles are driving and densely choreographed—an entertaining combination of brute force and complex skill, cool people doing cool things. Moreover, the imagery is reminiscent of a heavy metal concert, with grandiose settings, cool weapons, and showmanship.
Post-History Fantasy Setting
The mechanics of Chasmgard are unique and interesting. They certainly go beyond the typical fantasy / post-apocalyptic setting and are deeper than a mere color change for the sky. Underland is not merely beneath Overland—it isn’t underground—but is layered. Underland has its own sky, with a moon that moves across it, and yet it still maintains a physical orientation, below Overland.
Overland itself has a post-history flavor. There are ruins and legends (for example, the sky wasn’t always black, but was once blue) that hint that the world wasn’t always in its present state.
I shy away from the term post-apocalyptic only because it isn’t yet clear that it was a catastrophic event that caused this and the term tends to be applied to settings that are or were the real world. While the latter could be a possibility, this first book makes no explanations, for even the characters themselves do not fully understand their world’s history nor the particularities of how it works.
The result is a tantalizing mystery for later works in the series.
Pierce, the main protagonist, was my favorite character. While significantly younger than the original members of the Gorgonbane group, he holds his own in both bravery and skill in battle. However, his humility, positive attitude, and inquisitiveness make him fun to follow in the story. I hope to see more of him in future stories.
Pierce serves as a vehicle for the audience to learn about the other characters, since he is the new guy in the group. If Gorgonbane is a band, then Pierce is a fan who has stumbled into a dream-come-true opportunity to work with them. His interactions and the stories that they tell him develop the audience’s knowledge of these established heroes.
This first Hero’s Metal novel does spend a lot of time on this, but as all of the characters are, as I mentioned, cool people doing cool things, I found the stories of valor forgivable since they are entertaining. One weakness that does result is the lack of tension due to half of the tale occurring in retrospect and the other half shaded with the suspicion that these awesome characters will likely survive to the next book.
The Glorious Paths
A most thought-provoking element of How Black the Sky is the Overlander’s religion The Glorious Paths. This is a uniquely executed reflection of Christianity, and I found it intriguing how it put forward a different aspect of God’s character in this depiction than commonly seen by depicting Him as “the Blacksmith.”
While most Christian fiction emphasizes the attribute of love (sometimes to the detriment of all other characteristics), Marquis’s Blacksmith, while loving, is unavoidably sovereign.
In the Great Sanctuary stands a sculpture of the Blacksmith, and on his anvil humanity is being forged: “Their legs were elongated into a tapered shape like the blade of a longsword, and the woman’s arm was stretched out to one side in a partial crossguard.” Everything, including the fighting and conflict, occurs at the Blacksmith’s will to “temper” his servants and prepare them to walk the Glorious Path.
This process is not necessarily pleasant. The people on the anvil grit their teeth, grunt, and scream. But the Blacksmith has a vision for them beyond the immediate process. The Overlander’s God is not only fully in control, he is also intentionally working to prepare them for a purpose beyond this life. His followers are “the weapons that would one day slay Oblivion itself.”
Pierce in particular wonders if he will be deemed fit to serve after “this time of shaping and testing.” I appreciate how this portrayal imparts the biblical beliefs that God’s ways are not our ways and this present life is merely a shadow of what is to come.
The idea of salvation is not touched on in this book, and the morality is rather hazy, but I look forward to seeing how these ideas develop as the series progresses!
Check Out How Black the Sky!
How Black the Sky is an enjoyable adventure full of hardcore action, valiant warriors, and thought-provoking themes. A great start to the Hero’s Metal series!