The Griever’s Mark

The Grievers Mark

This review is brought to you as part of the Virtual Book Tour for The Griever’s Mark, hosted by YA Bound Book Tours.

The Griever’s Mark is Katherine Hurley’s debut novel and was first published in 2014. It is high fantasy story about a young woman who has been forced into the service of an evil overlord. The novel is the first part of a series and its sequel, Chains of Water and Stone, is due for release at the end of this month.

As a baby, Astarti’s mother abandoned her to the mercy of the ocean. Although she has never understood why, she knows that it was no accident. Her mother marked her with a runic tattoo – the Griever’s Mark – an ancient symbol believed to carry one to their death. Only Astarti did not die. Instead, she was found by Belos.

Belos was once an Earthwarden but has been cast out by his people. Now, he is feared across the lands. He gains power by making contracts with people, offering them all that they desire. In return, his victims are Leashed to him with invisible strands. Through these Leashes, Belos can pass on incredible powers but he can also take control of the minds and bodies of those bound to him. When she was seven years old, Astarti was forcibly Leashed to Belos. She burns with hatred for her master but the Leash makes it impossible for her to defy him.

While on a mission for Belos, Astarti finds herself face to face with another Earthwarden. Although his kind are usually hostile to her race, Logan seems different from the rest. He immediately sees that there is something unique about Astarti and starts to help her to find herself. With Logan’s assistance, Astarti discovers that Belos has been lying to her for a long time. There is far more to herself, her family and her powers than she could have ever imagined.

The Grievers Mark Banner

The Griever’s Mark is one of those books that I find the hardest to review. It’s very easy to rant about a book that offends me in some way, like Enclave or Shadowmancer, or shower praise on an exceptional novel such as The Miseducation of Cameron Post. It’s the novels that sit in the middle that I find the hardest to talk about. Let’s start with some of the good.

This novel is exceptionally well written, with prose that is both smooth and well edited. For me, there was just the right amount of descriptive text. Some authors seem to bulk out their novels by providing every detail about their world, leaving absolutely nothing to the reader’s imagination. While Hurley does give some small details about the way people and places look, she never goes overboard with her descriptions. The snippets that we are given are more than enough to paint a vibrant portrait of her world – from the Greco-Roman architecture of Avydos to the vaguely Viking culture of Rune – without resorting to info-dumping.

I was also very impressed by the complexity of the magic system in the novel. In The Griever’s Mark, there are two sorts of magic. The Earthwardens like Logan and his family are actually their own distinct race and their magic is based around control of the four elements. Human magi like Astarti, on the other hand, are known as Drifters. They instead draw their power from the Drift – the web of life that connects all living things – and they can call on it to create objects and instantly travel to any point across the globe. I really liked how these two magic systems connected. They were different enough to get across why the Earthwardens and Drifters hated each other, yet there were also enough similarities to make you wonder if they really were not just two halves of the same whole.

Leashing is also a truly horrifying concept. Not only is it a physical restriction, limiting freedoms and turning the victims into slaves to Belos’s every whim, but it is also portrayed as being akin to rape. Astarti always describes her Leash in sexual terms, seeing her forced Leashing as being a kind of violation that makes her feel dirty. The reactions of other characters in the novel seem to back this up, as the people that she encounters respond with horror and disgust when they discover that she is Leashed and some even blame her for it. The concept of Leashing mirrors real world reactions to rape and thus effectively gets across what a disgusting character Belos is for forcing himself onto others against their will.

However, there were still some major problems with the world-building in the novel. The reader is really thrown into the deep-end of this world as little is offered to explain its concepts. The story opens with Astarti being punished for some kind of rebellion that she has committed against Belos but we don’t find out what this is for quite some time. Terms are immediately thrown at the reader – the Shackle, Leashing, Earthwarden, the Drift, the Seven, the Howling – yet no immediate explanations are given. Although you do start to pick up on what some of these terms mean by the midpoint for the novel, it made the opening section feel like a chore to read at times. Some of the terms, such as the Howling, are never adequately explained. I personally found this to be a little alienating. I found it difficult to feel as though I was a part of Astarti’s world because I never fully understood how it worked.

The story was also incredibly slow burning. While it does have some exciting moments, the first half of the novel is mired by some lengthy stretches of dialogue, particularly while Astarti is imprisoned in Avydos, and this made it sometimes feel a slog to read. The story does rapidly gain speed over its second act and builds to a very impressive siege in the climax, however also ended abruptly with little sense of closure. You all are aware by now that I’m not a fan of cliffhangers and this was a particularly bad one. The safety of certain characters was left entirely up in the air and Belos did not receive any kind of comeuppance. While it did make me interested to see what would happen next, it was not a satisfying ending on the whole.

In terms of character, The Griever’s Mark was very strong. It is impossible not to empathise with Astarti. Although her Leash restricts her, it does not dampen her spirit. She is strong both physically and mentally, making her a fantastically relatable protagonist. While I did have some reservations towards her sudden attraction to Logan (and vice versa), the two of them work so well together. Logan is just made up of pure energy – lively and rash – and so provides all of the emotion that Astarti lacks.

Some of the secondary cast were also interesting. I am curious to see how Prince Rood develops in the sequel following some of the discoveries that he makes about his family late in the novel and Bran is also incredibly lovable. I was disappointed by the lack of female characters as, other than Astarti, I think that there were maybe two others and they didn’t make much of an impression on me. Belos was also problematic. While he was a vile and detestable villain, we never find out how he came to become a monster. I don’t think the novel ever reveals why he was exiled by the Earthwardens, or how he came to be able to use the Drift as well as his natural magic. I hope that this is addressed in the future as he was left feeling a little shallow and uninteresting in this story.

Anyhow, I don’t have much more to say about this one. The Griever’s Mark is a well written novel which presents an intriguing magic system and some very strong protagonists. However, its let down a little by its slow pace and the lack of explanation of its unique concepts early in the story. Hardened fans of high fantasy might well get a kick out of this one but I feel that it could be a little daunting for people who are not overly fond of the genre.

The Griever’s Mark can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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