The Ghoul King
by Guy Haley
For those of you who know me, the TL;DR version is this: I finished The Ghoul King in one sitting, and immediately turned around and purchased The Emperor's Railroad (I almost never buy books.) And now it's at the top of my to-read list.
The Ghoul King is short, but potent. Don't look for character development when reading this: it's pure nonstop action and captivating worldbuilding. The story takes place in a far-future America, after the collapse of society as we know it. The fallen world has become a theocracy, the rule of God pinned together by Dreaming Cities and ruled by the angels. Living dead and ghouls wander the earth, byproducts of a terrible plague that strikes at the whim of the angels. While the reader can recognize the power of the angels as some sort of advanced technology lingering in a fallen world, the characters themselves have no idea, and no way of distinguishing science from magic or from the power of God. As one character puts it:
"There is little in the world that is God's will, but a lot that is the angels'."
There is so much to love about the worldbuilding. While I have a suspicion the setup may be more familiar to gamers, I got a huge kick out of the cross between western and magical theocracy. I loved mentions of "The Monastery of Sainted Electrics" or "Angel Makers" or radiation counters carried as common course.
My biggest issue with the book comes from a few throwaway lines in the book:
"I've been told back in the Gone Before there were many colors of men in the world, and they all fought and warred and ruined everything, so after God's wrath cleansed the Earth he mixed up all those left so there's only a few shades of skin. I have never seen so pale a man, almost white as a fish's belly. I didn't know such men still existed."
Other than a few mentions of our white and blue-eyed protagonist that left a bad taste in my mouth, the rest of the book left racial issues alone, allowing me at least to pretend the whole "white saviour" thing wasn't happening. And as long as I could ignore that, I was utterly engrossed.
I love the idea of the Angels and the Dreaming Cities, and I can't wait to find out what makes them tick and what Quinn's actual mission is. In terms of series ordering, I read Ghoul King without The Emperor's Railroad and found it thoroughly comprehensible: Haley's style is to throw the reader directly into an initially bewildering world, slowly feeding them tiny pieces of backhistory and mechanics. I absolutely loved it. If you're looking for a short, wild ride with plenty of twists and captivating worldbuilding, The Ghoul King is definitely worth a look. Count me in for Knight Quinn's next adventure!
~~I received an advanced reader copy of this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Macmillan-Tor/Forge, in exchange for my honest review.~~
Cross-posted on Goodreads.