Review: Kagen the Damned by Jonathan Maberry

Review: Kagen the Damned by Jonathan Maberry

Kagen the Damned (Kagen the Damned #1) by Jonathan MaberryTitle: Kagen the Damned
Kagen the Damned #1
Author: Jonathan Maberry
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Grimdark; Epic Fantasy
Length: 560 pages
Goodreads – The StoryGraph
Content Warnings

Sworn by Oath
Kagen Vale is the trusted and feared captain of the place guard, charged with protection 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.

Fueled by Rage
To find the royal children and exact his vengeance, Kagen must venture into strange lands, battle bizarre and terrifying creatures, and gather allies for a suicide mission into the heart of the Witch-king’s empire.

Kings and gods will fear him.

Kagen the Damned is a great example of a novel that I heard next to nothing about. I first came across the book back in 2022 when I was doing my huge upcoming speculative fiction releases posts and it caught my eye then. Since then, I’m sure I’ve only seen one other person even mention the book. Yet it has stuck in my mind. Sometimes I catch a vibe from a book and I just know I need to give it a try. Very often I end up loving these books. Call it intuition or call it good taste, whatever you like. 😂 And yes, it has happened again with Kagen.

So to be frank, I had completely forgotten the premise of Kagen the Damned over the months and ended up going into the read blind. I can recommend against doing this for most readers. You see, this is grimdark, with a smattering of horror. Cosmic horror.

In the first 200 pages we see so much sexual assault and brutal violence that poor old Kagen becomes traumatised and falls into the loving embrace of a wine-enduced stupor. While personally I feel all of this serves the story, showcasing how devastatingly nasty the Hakkian forces are, and how dark the world becomes in the time since the fall of the Silver Empire, and how utterly destroyed Kagen is over what he has been through, it could prove too much for you and that’s okay. Know your lines, check the content warnings. Seriously.

That said, watching Kagen’s rise from rock bottom feels SO good. He has so much fuel for what’s to come and we do really root for him.

Kagen isn’t the only character we get to know, however. He’s not even in my top 3, truth be told!

We also follow Ryssa, a 15-year old nun-to-be from the destroyed and outlawed faith of the Garden, as she is led from the ruins of Argentium on the fateful night of the Empire’s fall and across the lands to mysterious ends by Miri, a nun who pretty quickly leaves her faith behind her. I didn’t care too much for these characters but their story plays a vital part and it is fascinating to watch the mystery unfold.

Then we have the new emperor, the Witch-king of Hakkia, an evil sorcerous leader wiped out around 1500 years ago by the Silver Empire, and his chamberlain, Lord Nespar, and the necromancer Lady Kestral. You see, magic was outlawed by the Silver Empire, once a force that came from evil gods and serving no good. Or so they said, at least. And now we begin to see magic returning to the world. Particularly through Lady Kestral and the Witch-king, although their use of magic is certainly for evil, particularly as they prepare for the coronation that will make the Witch-king’s reign as emperor legal. And oh it’s so fun to read about. I love Lady Kestral so much.

By far my three favourite characters, however, have to be Filia alden-Bok, a friend and sometimes lover of Kagen’s who is just an utter badass woman. She isn’t especially “attractive”, and yet.. she still gets laid and gets to kick some arse. What a concept! Then Tuke of Theria, a large dark-skinned man who Kagen becomes familiar with. I don’t want to go too much into his character as he’s a little way into the book but he’s such a fun character to have around, and also a badass. And last but not least, Mother Frey. An old lady and nun, revered for her work, and head of an order within the faith of the Garden that seeks out magic in the world… and stamps it out. She is a very interesting woman.

The only thing I perhaps didn’t care for was the fact that I pretty much worked out all of the twists ahead of time. I’m not sure if that’s because they were really obvious or if I’m just getting better at working these things out, but I do love an “oh my god, I didn’t see that coming!” moment, and I just didn’t have that here. Still though, it’s a damn good story and a world that I just want to devour. It’s dark and gritty, it’s got that mythic quality to it I always long for in my epic fantasy, with lost civilisations thousands of years in the past and strange forces the people have forgotten about, and of course, a hearty lick of cosmic horror. Incredible.

All in all, if you’re okay with the content warnings and enjoy a little grimdark in your fantasy from time to time, make sure to add Kagen the Damned to your TBR! I need more people to read this book, and the third and final volume of the trilogy releases later this year so there’s not long to wait if you want to binge. A damned good first foray into the fantasy genre from Mr. Maberry.

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