Series: THE DEAD SEEKERS
Plot Type: High/Dark Fantasy
Ratings: Violence—4; Sensuality—2; Humor—1
Publisher and Titles: Ace
The Dead Seekers (1/2017)
The authors have posted the following note on their web site:
"The Dead Seekers is set in the same world as THE NOBLE DEAD SAGA and THE MIST-TORN WITCHES (by Barb), BUT its plots are entirely separate from our other works; you do not need to have read any of our other novels or shorter works to jump into this one at full speed."DEAD SEEKERS is set in an imaginary medieval world, a feudal society in which the nobility wields most of the power and owns most of the land while ordinary citizens either work the land or provide services (e.g., baker, blacksmith, healer) in villages. Magic and supernatural beings abound. For example, in THE NOBLE DEAD saga, vampires are the featured supernatural villains. In the first book of THE DEAD SEEKERS series, there are no vampires. Instead the magical elements consist mostly of the spirits of the dead and those who can control them. Shape shifting, alchemy, and magically-infused objects are also important to the series.
The series hero is Tris Vishal, who is called a Dead's Man because he can magically control the spirits of the dead that roam the earth. He makes a living using his magical talent to send errant ghostly spirits through a portal to where they were supposed to have gone when their physical bodies died. Although families and villages hire him to rid themselves of malevolent ghosts, they also fear him. Some people—the ones who don't believe in magic—call him a fraud. So basically, Tris is always an outsider, always a loner. He is really the son of a noble family, but he hides his true identity for a number of reasons that are revealed in the first novel.
The heroine is Mari Kaleja, who is one of the Móndyalítko, "a communal people who traveled in extended family groups," or what we might call Romani or gypsies. When Mari was a child, her family died horribly in a ghostly attack in a haunted forest: "Mama cried out in pain as something white that resembled a hand came through her chest...There were glimmers like white wisps in the night among the trees. Shapes that moved, walked, and seemed to fly. One glimmering wisp slipped right through an oak...It was a woman, white like chalk dust in water. A darkness flickered by in the woman's passing...That pure black shape was like the silhouette of a slender boy...It was nothing but pure blackness. No eyes, no white teeth in a mouth, nothing at all but black deeper than night...Papa came stumbling through the black thing, losing his grip on the ax...A black hand sprouted through his face...He flopped face-first on the wet ground and didn't move." Mari is the sole survivor of the attack. After being shunted from one Móndyalítko family to another, Mari struck out on her own with a single goal: to find and kill the black silhouette-boy who controlled the murderous spirits who killed her family. There is one more thing you need to know about Mari: She is a shape shifter (aka yai-morchi, or "two fleshed") who can take the form of a huge lynx.
In the New York Times bestselling NOBLE DEAD saga, Barb and J.C. Hendee created an engrossing mix of “intrigue, epic fantasy, and horror.” Now, they present a bold new series set in the same world, where the destinies of two hunters shaped by the shadows of their pasts are about to collide.
In the dark reaches of the eastern continent, Tris Vishal travels from village to village, using his power to put unsettled spirits to rest. He works alone, having learned that letting people close only leads to more death. Still, he finds himself accepting the help of the Móndyalítko woman who saves his life—a woman whose gifts are as much a burden as his own.
Mari Kaleja thirsted for vengeance since the night her family was taken from her. She has searched far and wide for the one she thinks responsible, known only as “The Dead’s Man.” But before she can kill him, she has to be sure. Mari hopes traveling with Tris will confirm her suspicions. But as they embark on a hunt where the living are just as dangerous as the dead, she learns the risks of keeping your enemy close...Because it’s no longer clear who is predator and who is prey.
As the first book opens, we are immersed in two very personal, life-shaping events: the circumstances of Tris's strange death/birth and Mari's witnessing of the murder of her family by "the black silhouette...who seemed to command white flying spirits." The action then skips a decade or so as Mari finally tracks down the infamous "Dead's Man," who, she believes, is responsible for her parents' horrific deaths. She has tracked him to an herbalist's shop in a small village where she plans to kill him—just as soon as she verifies that this is indeed her true prey.
There are two types of "action" in this novel: the emotional action and the physical action. On the emotional side, Mari can't figure out just what Tris is and whether he is actually the murderer she initially thought he was. Meanwhile, Tris struggles with his burgeoning feelings for Mari and his need to keep her away from him because of the danger that comes with the spirits that haunt his life—particularly Black Tris.
The physical action involves the dangers of Tris's banishing of the restless spirits that refuse to leave the earthly realm until they take revenge on specific humans who have somehow wronged them before their deaths. After banishing the spirit of a young woman, Tris and Mari travel to an army fortress to find the spirit that caused her death. That adventure takes up most of the novel, as Tris and Mari follow some clues that lead them down false paths (at first). Then they finally figure out what's really going on, and the countdown to the inevitable climactic showdown begins.
Although the plot proceeds at a relatively moderate pace until the final chapters, this is absolutely necessary because we need to understand the past events that motivate, and sometimes hinder, the lead characters. The Hendees, as usual, do a fine job in developing both their lead characters and their supporting characters. In lesser hands, the soldiers might have blended into look-alike, cardboard cutouts, but that's not how the Hendees write. Each soldier who plays a role in the story line is a well-drawn individual with specific personality traits and physical features that set him apart from his compatriots.
Mari, who has been in vengeance mode for many years, takes a long time to fully understand who and what Tris is. Although you may think that she should "get it" long before she does, remember that Mari witnessed the murder of her beloved father and that she has dedicated her life to getting revenge. At first, she is 100% sure that Tris and the murderous black silhouette-boy are one and the same, but as she gets to know Tris and watches him in action, she begins to wonder if she could be wrong. She has never seen anyone like Tris before, and it takes her awhile to figure out that he's not the bad guy she thought he was. (Note: This last statement is not really a spoiler because their inevitable friendship—probably romance—is never in doubt, not even during some of the dicier moments.)
Tris also has some thinking to do about Mari. He has always stayed away from personal relationships (except for Heil, his mentor, who is a powerful alchemist—and probably a sorcerer—who can take care of himself). Tris tries to keep Mari at arm's length, but we can see that he is falling for her even though he doesn't act on his feelings.
This is a strong start for a series that I will keep reading. Mari and Heil finally meet near the end of this book, and the friction between them foreshadows some interesting conflict in the next novel. Meanwhile, the situation with creepy Black Tris remains unresolved.
Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt on this novel's Amazon.com page by clicking on the cover art for print or on the "Listen" icon for audio.