THE ARMORED SAINT / Writer: Myke Cole / Cover Art: Tommy Arnold / February 20, 2018
Reading Gemini Cell, Cole’s first book in the concluded Reawakening trilogy, sent me on a bit of a reading frenzy towards the end of 2017. It was fresh and different, and I queued the entire series on my Kindle. I was then thrilled to see that Cole had started his next series. Armored Saint is a medieval, grimdark fantasy and a fresh and exciting addition to the genre. It was also my favorite book of 2017.
The Armored Saint is action in concert with tension, and there is a lot to love about it. I want to highlight my four favorites though: 1) the way Cole writes women; 2) the world-building and consequences; 3) the clarity of action and combat; and 4) love.
“…the pain and grieving giving over to something else. Anger…The ember was small, but it grew quickly, and it felt so much better than sorrow.”
First: I continue to be impressed with Cole’s female characters. The protagonist, Heloise, is innocent and raw. She questions her faith, her sexuality, and her own strength, and Cole managed to fit that perfectly into a grimdark book. Heloise’s rage is boiling, real, and complex, and it *very much* speaks to me. Her fear of a life burdened by the role of wife—limited by loving how/when society tells her to—reminds me of the letters between Heloise and Abelard, where Abbess Heloise said “I preferred love to wedlock, freedom to bond.” Her leonine response to protect friends, family, and the weak makes the reader cheer for her all the more. I could’ve used a heroine like Heloise in my life when I was younger; she is the Joan d’Arc with a war machine and engine that I would’ve carried in my heart through some rough years. I’m still thankful to have had this time with her; it’s going to be a hard wait for book 2.
Second: The Shadow Ops/Reawakening series worked so well because Cole deftly translated his military experience into urban fantasy. With Armored Saint, he brings his considerable study of history to bear, making the world and the Order just as real and just as tangible as his other series. The Writ has the perfect cadence for a holy text. The Pilgrims with their flails and dogma call to mind Templars and flagellants with a dark crusade. He nails the feel of an imperial religion down to the villagers’ prayerful responses. Characters are never spared from their actions; they and those around them have to face the consequences of thought and deed. More than that, though, he encapsulates true weariness. I’ve found weariness to be particularly tricky; weariness sits in your gut differently, you carry its weight differently than fear or exhaustion, and Cole does it justice.
“Did we have to do it?” she asked.
“No,” he answered, his voice breaking, tears falling into his beard to turn the flakes of ash to gray slush. “No, child. We didnt.”…
He took a deep break then spoke again. “And making us complicit means we will never call them to account for the crime.”
Third: Cole writes action with precision. You honestly can’t ask for better clarity outside of watching a movie in slow motion. Without burdening the scenes with unnecessary prose, Cole moves multiple people in battle, describing stances, axes tangling chains, leveraging weight, the burning strain in muscle. You don’t lose the characters’ positions; you don’t even lose their footing. A giant, terrifying hell spawn can be rampaging, and you feel the flow of battle, the twitch of instinct, muscle-memory guiding battle. I love that, after reading a paragraph, I can close my eyes and actually see it.
Fourth: Javelin Rain, the sequel to Gemini Cell and part of the Reawakening series, sucked me in partially because it was a breathtaking love story, as is Armored Saint.
“No. It is a person you love. Not a name. Not a she or a he. A person in all their shining glory.”
The love is heady. My heart ached for Heloise, opening to herself and to others, daring to want, daring to love. Make no mistake: the world of The Armored Saint is dark: the ruling religious order terrorizes villages, wizardry can open actual portals to hell and free demons and wizard-blight to kill and poison, but love is beautiful and it is worth fighting for and it’s the force that drives Heloise, her father, Basina…all of them.
Verdict: 5 out 5 stars to The Armored Saint. This is the beginning to an amazing journey.
Want to hear the author read a chapter? Here is the link to the video on Facebook