A dark tale of swords, prisoners, kings, and gods
Mature Content Rating: R (Strong sexual content, grotesque imagery, violence, and mild language)
Anyone who thinks that the justice system today is too lax should take a look at The Pal Hand of God. These days, depending on the prison, criminals get free room and board, daily exercise, and the only painful thing is that they have to wear that awful colour of orange all day! Talk about fashion suicide! What will your friends think? Criminals today get given fresh clothing on their arrival and shown to their rooms. In The Pale Hand of God, fresh criminals are given a sword and told, “You’re gonna need this!”
Though I have never been in a prison and cannot tell you first hand what it is like, I have heard it is no picnic (unless you bring a red and white checkered blanket with you I suppose… but that would just clash with your orange jumpsuit!) S.M. White lets you know what it is like in the clergy-controlled prison city of Iban Su. You can almost feel the grit and taste the blood as you enter this city of dread with Lainn Sevai. The description is so rich that every sentence shows you the face the demon that is this book. As you enter deeper and deeper into that grotesque maw, you realise suddenly that this isn’t reality but just a book. That is when you slap the beast in face and say, “you are just make believe, silly! You thought you could eat me?” Everything from the scum on the ground to the stars sparkling in the sky high above the shadow-encased buildings has a character of its own, and draws you right into the world of S.M. White’s mind. Not only is the description glorious, but it sets every scene in a way that readers and writers alike will be in awe of (except for me, obviously. I’m immune to such treatment. 😉 ).
The Pale Hand of God is a little bit longer than many of the indie books I have been reading recently, and it is a welcome change. White really takes the time to get in the heads of his characters and informs the reader enough of their back story to make motivations believable. Because it is such a dark story, you really feel awful for the characters while learning about what has happened to them and watching what is happening to them as an external observer, powerless to do anything. Internal monologue runs rampant, beautifully filling out a scene with the characters therein.
I really wanted to like this book more than I did. The writing it top notch, but unfortunately the book is not. It starts out very strong with multiple chapters from the point of view of Lainn Sevai inside the prison city of Iban Su. Everything is going along well (or maybe not so well in Lainn’s case) and then all of a sudden… POV change! Now, it doesn’t just change to the POV of a character we have already met, or even a character in any way related to what is happening with Lainn Sevai. Instead, we are shipped half-way around the world to some epic battle about to ensue between characters we didn’t even know exist. There is little cross-over between the “two stories” that are being told except that they are in the same book, and the same world. By the end, things come together, and the reader can see how it all makes sense, but it takes most of the book for this to happen, so the reader is left hanging wondering what is going on.
A sister problem to the first is that a lot of characters are introduced in quick succession after the initial burst of good setting from the POV of Lainn Sevai. There were so many characters, names, and POV changes all at once that I began to not care about what was happening and just wanted to get back to Lainn Sevai. It also doesn’t care that some of the character have similar enough names to be confused with each other so that the reader is not actually sure who this new character is without doing some back checking into previous chapters or just pressing on in hopes that it will make sense eventually. Once weeding through all of this mess (first 100 pages or so) and the characters are all introduced, the book continues on fairly smoothly, but the initial execution is very poorly done.
Look at this prison city, look at this guy who’s life sucks…
Oh, by the way there is a king and another king, and two empires at war, and a stolen princess and…
Oh, and there is this guy who is supposed to do… something, but then gets rolled off a cliff in a cart for no apparent reason…
But this is about a prison city isn’t it? Okay… so back to that then…
…And somehow this is all part of the same story!
All in all, I enjoyed this book and will probably be purchasing the sequel. I am absolutely in love with S.M. White’s writing style and the hearty descriptions that he pulls off with little more effort than picking bananas out of your teeth. If you push through the initial messy POV confusion issues it is well worth your time. If you like dark fantasy and don’t mind some strong mature content, you will not be disappointed. Oh, it’s also free, so no harm in checking it out. 😉
S.M. White has informed me that any books he publishes from this point on will be DRM-free. He was initially unaware of the evils of DRM and thus originally published them with it. Concerning the DRM-state of the author’s books he has said, “Amazon won’t let me change the DRM state of a book once it’s published, so that’s why The Paruus Histories haven’t gone DRM-free. The Lonely Man is DRM-free as will be the rest of the books I release.” You can, however, get both The Pale Hand of God and The Dark Arm of God at Smashwords now DRM-free.
A special thanks goes out to S.M. White for supporting the DRM-free community.
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