REVIEW: IMMORTAL: CURSE OF THE DEATHLESS
IMMORTAL: CURSE OF THE DEATHLESS is a truly unique and sometimes excessively gruesome dark fantasy adventure through different realms and planes of existence.
HOW I RATED IT
3.5/5 While this work of indie fiction as a lot going for it, this is one adventure that is definitely not going to be well-suited to everyone.
The overarching tone of this novel is something that is really setting it apart from a lot of traditionally published fiction in this genre. The author weaves juvenile slang and catchphrases into prose that is decidedly more adult to create this sort of intentional tonal inconsistency that some readers are going to love and others will likely despise. For me, I thought the tone shifts helped keep things from getting too grim as there is quite a lot of content here that would have been quite bleak and hard to get through without some comic relief. On the other hand though, the main character's irreverent humor can sometimes detract from certain moments and interactions being as impactful as they could have been.
On the plot side, I'd rather not spoil too much. I've seen a number of reviews complaining about how the story is structured and some of them are valid. Basically, the first and the third acts of the book are set in an urban fantasy version of our own world while the middle act sees Asher making a trip to the realm of the Fae/Sidthe. I didn't necessarily mind this, but I do acknowledge that it sort of felt like three distinct stories strung together. What I did mind was how gruesome and gory some scenes got, particularly when exploring Asher's healing abilities. I like to think that I can take a lot in terms of over-the-top gore as someone who enjoys the MORTAL KOMBAT series, but there are a few scenes, particularly in the third act that were just too much in my personal opinion.
This is probably one area that largely kept my rating from being higher. I liked our main character, Asher, who is an immortal/deathless college student. He's funny and quick on his feet, but he can also be a bit frustrating since a lot of the perils he finds himself in are of his own making. He's one of those characters that comes off really rude and uncouth, but deep down does want to do good in the world. Because of the snarky/sarcastic tone of the book, I felt like the deeper, more nuanced aspects of Asher's character were sometimes a little buried beneath the humor and it was hard for me to decide at the end whether he'd grown or not. There are also some pretty horrifying things that happen to Asher when it comes to the book's gore that he mostly just laughs off. It was unclear to me if he just didn't feel any pain, but some of the things that happened to him seemed like they would have been pretty traumatizing even though he knew he wouldn't die.
Where I think things fell a little on the flatter side were with the side characters. I think this book would probably fall under the "grim dark" category in that there aren't really any characters that felt like they were good people. For a lot of readers this probably won't be a problem, but it made for some unsatisfying interactions between characters for me personally when even some of the characters that seemed like they (maybe) like (or at least don't hate) Asher are kind of cruel to him. While the darkness of the cast did add to the sense of mystery and unease the story conveys it also left me with no one I was really truly routing for. Even Asher wasn't someone I wouldn't necessarily side with if he wasn't the only person taking initiative to save the world from disaster.
There are really two worlds in this story: the "normal" world that humans (among other creatures) live in and the land of the Fae/Sidthe. For me, I thought the latter was a much more interesting setting in that it's fleshed out and made more sense to me. The story doesn't dive too deep into the intricacies of the politics, but it is very clear that this is a land filled with powerful beings who are constantly scheming and conniving their way to the top. There's a lot of magic and wonder here, making this feel like the most fantastical section of the book.
The "real" world is made up of a more urban fantasy type setting. There are the regular humans who go about their daily lives and then there is the dark underground of mystical creatures and witches along with the Inquisition which is actively hunting the so called "Supernatural Community" down. Where I think things are at their best here is when the story explores more of the urban fantasy elements like a sanctuary that can change into different types of businesses, locations protected behind hidden portals, and a financial institution that is run by a literal (Were)wolf. What worked less for me was the conflict between the Inquisition and the Supernatural Community. Part of what didn't work for me had to do with how I felt like none of the characters on either side were really worth routing for. The members of the Supernatural Community are being hunted down and killed, but there wasn't really anything else shown that made me sympathize with them. In many ways they're not really a "community" at all since I felt like they could be just as brutal and backstabbing as the Fae or The Inquisition. As someone who is a modern day Catholic, I was not stoked about the way that the Catholic Church is represented. I also just had a lot of questions about how/why they had a full-blown military force that no one seemed to know about even though the members were presumably human. Was this an alternate history where the Spanish Inquisition or the Salem Witch Trials never really ended? Was there some event that tipped them off to the Supernatural Community? I really wanted some extra context into how the conflict began in the first place, but all we really seemed to get as justification is that organized religion is oppressive, evil, and filled with functioning psychopaths. While the Catholic church certainly does not have a spotless history it definitely felt like these characters were written with no real understanding of Catholicism or even religion in general.
I've seen a couple of reviews mentioning "typos" or editing shortcomings, so I wanted to say that I didn't personally encounter anything of note. I maybe spotted one typo and had to do a couple of double takes on a handful of sentences that didn't immediately make sense to me, but I didn't find any more errors or oddities than I would in a traditionally published book of this length. It's possible those reviews were on an early copy of the book, so I don't want to say those reviews are "wrong" I just want to be clear that I had no issues with the quality control of the prose itself.
IMMORTAL: CURSE OF THE DEATHLESS is going to be a hit with those that are looking for something truly unique and special in the horror/dark fantasy department. If you are someone who isn't thrilled about excessive gore, dark and irreverent humor, or seeing religious institutions be demonized, then I would suggest probably giving this a pass. If none of those things bother you (or are something you actively look for) then I would encourage you to give IMMORTAL a chance because you are definitely not going to find anything quite like this at your local Barnes & Noble.