A war between the Wraiths and humans has recently come to a conclusion, and an accord is struck between the two sides in a long-running feud for control. Cade, a warrior or Bearer in the sickening battle, has emerged as the traumatized and modest hero of the war, though his mind is so overwhelmed at times he has to resort to a drug called Nocturne to alleviate an unusual and paranormal type of PTSD. His hiatus and rest are quickly dissolved when his family suddenly disappears and Princess Ashlyn Winshire shows up at his door with a mission to help her unlock the mysteries surrounding her uncle’s untimely passing. Reluctantly, Cade leaves his domicile and proceeds on a mind-bending, sometimes amusing, and often harrowing trek to unravel deeper information about the Wraiths, his eternal foes, and a secret scheme by humans to serve up a critical setback to the Wraith dominion of the human realm.
One part medieval fantasy, one part eccentric sci-fi dystopia, PHANTOM PACT is a plot-bending, inventive, and slightly quirky narrative, which flirts with conventional formulas only to abandon them later. The book sometimes feels overburdened with new metaphysical concepts and talismans, such as the Rynthium power ring and the phantoms that inhabit Cade to assist him in his fighting, such that the story feels slightly too profuse at times. On top this, the action scenes seem slightly too zany at times. But just when you think the novel is going to descend into an oblivion of frenetic fight scenes, it settles down and injects a share of probing insights and characterization into the equation.
There’s some interesting concepts here that are typical of all fantasy successes. Cade uses a process called encoding, which all Bearers of phantoms use, to barricade his form against assault. (Tungsten and diamond are his favorite substances to turn his arms into.) And then there’s the mystical proposition in the book that all beings in the created worlds have a Song that plays through them incessantly. It is one which all Bearers hear when they are attuned, and it is one which Cade actively engages to understand his opponents’ whims, emotions, and thoughts.
Beyond this, there are also some interesting, suggestive hints here about the nature of politics and how a kind act by the overseers of a land can seem like a help when it is anything but. As part of their accord with humans, the Wraiths have agreed to provide free energy through a device called a Thread, a device which also happens to blot out the sun and the stars by day. Cade and Ashlyn ultimately decide the Thread is malevolent and seek to destroy it in a daring and heroic act.
While the action scenes could use some work, PHANTOM PACT is a funny, pleasant, and harrowing tale that is simultaneously both lyrical and entertaining. The lyrical portions are better; the entertainment parts aren’t too bad, either.
~MP Gunderson for IndieReader