First things first. I was given an Advance Reader Copy of Faithless in exchange for an honest review. I’m very grateful to Graham for allowing me to read his book before it has released.
Faithless follows along behind two protagonists, Wynn and Kharios, as they struggle through life in a giant colonised mine, as well as the decrepit religious temple above. The religion of the Forgefather (it’s all based on fire and smithing) is a lot like Christianity in some ways. They believe in the one god, much of their time is devoted to prayer and rituals, and there is a rigid hierarchical structure to the priesthood. There’s also pedophilia and rape, and in fact a lot of the book’s time is spent on this, both the dread of it happening and the aftermath of it. Down in the mines below the temple it’s much more of a dog eat dog world with everybody struggling to meet a mining quota, and a savage overlord ruling over the citizens.
So first off I want to say the world building is pretty top notch. The whole book takes place almost entirely in the mines and temple, so we know almost nothing about the wider world, but Graham makes the mines of Aspiration feel like a real living city. The religion of the Forgefather also feels very well fleshed out with ritual names and levels of advancement within the structure. And he certainly seems to know his stuff about smithing… I assume. I know nothing about smithing myself, other than pumping bellows is tiring work.
The main draw for me reading this was the mystery. We’re told the priesthood used to commune openly with their god, but he has long since fallen silent, and the priesthood is decaying because of it. In some ways this is kind of a shame, because they apparently used to have big badass paladins who could wage war against all sorts of demons all on their own… but we never really see any of that. Well, we get a little glimpse near the end. Honestly, the possibility of paladins is what made me want to read it in the first place.
The supporting cast are interesting, though often fleeting in many ways, and felt quite real in many ways. They each had their own concerns and this really helped bring them to life on the page, far more, in fact, than the main characters.
But the book just never really gripped me beyond the mystery of what happened to the faith. It’s well written and a good book in many ways, but just not really my sort of thing. I found the pace a bit lethargic, especially the beginning which felt a lot like an introduction to mining. I found the main characters a bit wet. And the whole thing came across as a little too YA for my liking. There’s terms thrown out all over the place; the Fall, Listerners, a Reckoning, Deeplighters, and many more. Every time one of these terms is used the main character has to stop and ask what they mean and at times it seems all he is doing is asking questions. He felt wet to me because he felt like tool for Graham to tell us about this deep, rich world he has created, rather than a fully fleshed out character struggling to get through a hard life.
So I’m giving Faithless 3 stars. Excellent world building wrapped up in a good mystery, and a great sense of claustrophobia, but let down by weak characters and slow pacing.