Thursday, August 25, 2022

Review: Kagen the Damned by Jonathan Maberry

by Jonathan Maberry
Release Date: May 10, 2022
2022 St. Martin's Griffin
Kindle Edition; 560 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250783974
Audiobook: B09GH6S29N
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / Grimdark
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Sworn by Oath
Kagen Vale is the trusted and feared captain of the palace guard, charged with protecting the royal children of the Silver Empire. But one night, Kagen is drugged and the entire imperial family is killed, leaving the empire in ruins.

Abandoned by the Gods
Haunted and broken, Kagen is abandoned by his gods and damned forever. He becomes a wanderer, trying to take down as many of his enemies as possible while plotting to assassinate the usurper–the deadly Witch-king of Hakkia. While all around him magic–long banished from the world—returns in strange and terrifying ways.

My Thoughts
Kagen the Damned is one of those books that I am really glad I pushed through to the end. (I am a huge fan of his Rot & Ruin series, so I was happy to see him venture into fantasy.) I wasn't a huge fan of Kagen in the beginning however, and his whining definitely rubbed me the wrong way, but when I reflected on his character development throughout the book, it made sense. The story certainly started with a bang and the battle at the beginning was epic, with the imperial city being destroyed and Kagen fighting to save the royal family as well as his own family.  

Turns out that Kagen is actually a strong character despite his many character flaws, though he isn't very likeable. He is consumed with guilt and anger and turns to alcohol and petulance to stem his guilt, behaving in such a way you just want to slap him. He is supposed to be the most feared captain of the palace guards, but his behaviour just turns you right off his character. Personally, I think the author was trying to show his privilege and what happens to that privilege when everything is taken from you. You can be the best of whatever, but it is through your actions when things are tough that you show your merit, and Kaden needed to learn this lesson. Naturally, he quits drinking, decides to kill the Witch-King, and the reader is supposed to be understanding of his behaviours up to this point. Uh, no.  And for a captain of the guard, he seems to be overly trusting, especially when an entire empire is destroyed so quickly, whereas I would be looking for who betrayed what and whom when something like this happens so quickly and would trust no one.  
There are also a couple of secondary story lines that being developed as well involved a couple of nuns named Miri and Ryssa as well as a woman named Mother Frey who seems to be more of a spy than a leader of a religious house.  I wasn't a big fan of the story line between Miri and Ryssa for a variety of reasons, but I think if I heard the word 'sweetheart' one more time, I thought I would scream as it sounded so condescending.  I did feel overall that the character development for most of the characters was a bit more one-dimensional than I would have liked as the author did tend to focus more on the plot and world-building. It's not than the characters are forgettable, it's just that they are not that complex so I am hoping to dig more into their personalities in future books as we get to know more of the world.
I thought the writing was strong and enjoyed the world-building. It was not hard to understand the culture and history of the world and the historical glimpses of some events from the past made me want to learn more as they were tantalizing. Although there wasn't as much magic as I thought there would be, this was an empire that did suppress it so I am curious as to how it will play a role in the next book as people develop their skills once again or as people no longer keep it hidden.  It should be interesting to see the development.   The story could be bloody and grim, fast-paced at times with a lot happening in a short period of time, and pretty gritty. Yup, I flinched quite a few times. And whhile the ending was satisfying, it did end on a cliffhanger and a lot of threads developed in this book have yet to be resolved.  

Kagen the Damned was an action-packed first entry into what I think will be an interesting series. While I wasn't a fan of Kagen at the beginning, he did grow on me as I learned more about him and his past and his character development was one of the themes of the book, strength is not given, it is earned through one's actions, not privilege.  Turns out this was a dark and twisty story, with many interesting elements, and while I was not a fan of all of them, as in the relationship between Mira and Ryssa, there was definitely enough that I am looking forward to the ARC I received of book 2, Son of the Poison Rose.



  1. Good review. Can't recall where else I've heard of the author.

    1. He is the author of some horror series such as the V-Wars Comics and the Pine Deep series. He also wrote Rage and Relentless.