I was given an ARC in exchange for a review by Gollancz! Thank you to Mike, Stevie and Waseem for allowing me to review this. We are the Dead is a fantastic novel.
This book will make you weep, make you cry, and make you feel happy at the end.
I found this book to be excellent with its descriptions. Fair warning, it is a novel full of gore, revolutionary aspects, and blood. Torture and occupation never go well in hand to hand together.
This novel had so many similarities with WW2. Especially as I could see the German Occupation of France in here. Imagine being a Frenchmen having been proud of the great legacy of France’s history, no longer interested in war, only to find yourself the next day finding your street full of German soldiers. It would make your blood boil. Or imagine being a proud citizen of the Song Empire, confident that the Mongols would never dare to destroy the great land of the Han. And within a few weeks, the Mongols had raided and destroyed everything you have loved. It is a scary thought to be a citizen of a proud country, a republic, a democracy, an empire or kingdom, to find out it has collapsed.
I can imagine what French soldiers were thinking when they fought against the Germans in the six-week war in 1940. Despite the war being lost, they put up a difficult effort for the Germans to conquer France, and it was the military and political establishment that surrendered. In much the same way, Jia felt like this. The armies of Jia were finished. All because the great nations had not taken notice of their barbaric neighbors as they liked to call them. The Ergil and their desire to conquer the world and make people worship the true God, was indefinitely inspired by history. I also compare this to the Man in the High Castle, as John Smith accepted the role of serving Nazi Germany, I knew that inside he was feeling crushed. To come from a great country called America, which sprung out of revolution, fought wars and then suffered a brutal civil war, to surrender to Germany must have been crushing. Though the last season is coming, he will want to revolt at some point.
And why would you not? You woke up thinking on a fine Monday morning that everything within your town was great. Or not. But then when foreign invaders come and occupy your country, there is not much you can do. I suspect that this is what many people were feeling in WW2.
Except this is the fantasy version combined with mythical creatures, crazy Chosen villains difficult to even digest their thought process. I liked the characters because of their realistic outlook. In war, heroic tales are less, and stories of grim tales exist. This has been true for every conflict.
For a supposedly dark fantasy tale, this had some heroism at the end. Dren was a misguided fool but I sincerely hope he repents for the grave sin he committed on his own people. Tinnistra has the making of a great character, and Yas and her son little Ro were also my favorites.
For some criticism, I would say to tone down a bit of the gore, as sometimes it wasn’t needed so much, and I wanted to see more heroic tales. For example, in WW2 there was a Japanese diplomat who smuggled thousands of Jews through his embassy. An Indian Raja in WW2 gave temporary occupation to Polish children. I would have wanted to see our characters learning from their mistakes and defeating the villains. But I also take the point that this entire novel is in 7 days of occupation. It’s a lot for people to take in. I would have wanted to have seen more heroism from the main character. Because the Shulka/Hanran was too weak in my opinion, and they needed a stronger set-up. I can see they take parallels from the French Resistance, and the Chosen was like Hans Landa, almost. Very brutal, terrible.
Because though humanity has suffered through brutal wars, there have been acts of heroism that have never been reported in worldwide media. I am sure that in the American Civil War, plenty of people helped slaves, soldiers helping each other. But no one records these tales down. At the end, we are just human beings.
I enjoyed this novel Mike, and thank you for creating a tragic tale in which I do hope the Ergil are kicked out of Jia.
I really want to review the next novel! I want to know what happens next!