Chad Queen demonstrates brilliant imagination with his complex world-build. Chalice is a place where those appropriately trained can conscript the phantoms of the recently passed by entering into a pact with them. The price is high–having more than one consciousness simultaneously can drive the bearer insane. However, Cade Elegy, the protagonist, fights through this and many other battles in this primary installment of this new series.
In addition to the masterful world build, Queen tells a great story. The plot has twists and turns, and the ending satisfies. Enough is left for future work, but you don’t get the feeling of being robbed of a conclusion.
The characters are rich and well developed, including Cade, his archaeologist friend, the Royal family (the King and three heirs), and a sophisticated intelligence that helps him survive his battles. The Ancient race is referenced, and the “Traveler” is someone I expect we will hear more about in subsequent novels.
Queen intersperses descriptions of the religion of Coda, the drug to suppress insanity used by Bearers, the planes of existence, and the Wraith species plus their slaves, the Skex (the bad guys), to explain the standard good versus evil battle. It’s complex and well thought-out.
However, the sophisticated world-build creates two problems. First, I spent about ten chapters with no idea what was going on, and I almost put the book down. Second, the length made it challenging to retain the plot in my head between reading sessions. That’s only a problem if you can’t read it cover to cover in a short period of time, but for busy readers, it’s a bit much.
My main criticism would be the way the main character “suddenly” solves all of his problems. The most glaring example is his addiction. As he bonds more phantoms, instead of going insane or needing more Nocturne, Cade simply continues on unburdened. Eos is a classic use of “deus ex machina” and the number of times characters appear to die but do not strains credulity.
The technique of using a chapter introduction to “tell” rather than “show” different details can be forgiven, as there are plenty of action scenes and some spoon-feeding works in this setting.
Overall, I give it 4.5 stars (and round up) because the key elements, world-build, character development and plot are all excellent.