Review: The Ghoul King by Guy Haley

Posted by DarkChaplain at 5/08/2016
The Knight, Quinn, is down on his luck, and he travels to the very edge of the civilized world – whatever that means, any more – to restock his small but essential inventory.

After fighting a series of gladiatorial bouts against the dead, he finds himself in the employ of a woman on a quest to find the secret to repairing her semi-functional robot.

But the technological secret it guards may be one truth too many…
I was excited to dig into this one the moment I read The Emperor's Railroad. Tor's PR person had me excited by the notion that this one would be more scifi than fantasy, and I ended up loving that.
The Story:
"The Knight, Quinn, is down on his luck, and he travels to the very edge of the civilized world – whatever that means, any more – to restock his small but essential inventory.

After fighting a series of gladiatorial bouts against the dead, he finds himself in the employ of a woman on a quest to find the secret to repairing her semi-functional robot.
But the technological secret it guards may be one truth too many…"
Disclaimer
I received an ARC for this novella from the publisher, as I did with the previous installment in the series. Since the first book was such a cracking read, I'd have jumped at the purchase anyway, but this way I got to read it months ahead of time, and the chance to review it early.
Make of that what you will.

The Review
The Ghoul King is the second novella in Guy Haley's Dreaming Cities series. The science fiction aspects in this science fantasy story are far more pronounced than they were in its predecessor, The Emperor's Railroad.

Where the first installment was more of a post-apocalyptic fantasy tale, here the technological aspects of the setting Haley created are apparent right from the first chapter. We actually kick off with a point of view chapter by one of the Angels of Pittsburgh, which enlightens us about the nature of the Angels (though we find out even more later in the story!) and their twisted arrogance.
While The Emperor's Railroad certainly hinted at a lot, this time we get answers in some very impressive ways.

After that first chapter, we once again have the story focus on a character who narrates the rest of the tale to us. Like Abney from the first book, Jaxon provides us with an adventure at Quinn's side. The Knight of Atlantis himself stays enigmatic in his ambitions and purpose, yet Jaxon is in a far better position than Abney was to analyze Quinn. Not only is he older, giving us a less awe-inspired version of the knight, but he is also somewhat in the know about forbidden knowledge of the Gone Before, and saw the fall of the Dreaming City of Columbus.
The narrative, first person style is less eccentric than previously, due to the nature of Jaxon himself. He grew up and lived in very different circumstances from Abney, so it makes perfect sense.

Jaxon and his crew of Seekers (or rather, the group he was dragged into by charismatic Rachel) are technophiles. They dig up old knowledge and put it to use. This ranges from creating simple flashlights to finding more sophisticated devices. They are rebels, for all intents and purposes.
They were also a wonderful choice for this story, as their perspectives, unique in this world of Angels and undead, add a lot to the whole adventure into the old Dreaming City of Columbus. Their understanding, no matter how limited, of the workings of technology before them, wouldn't be possible than any regular character in the world. As a result of their obsession with the old and forbidden, they play off very nicely against Quinn, whose perspectives are quite different from their own.

I have really come to like Quinn over the course of both books. His character is mysterious enough even at the end of this story to hold a lot of promise for future installments, while being familiar and solid throughout. He is interesting to read about and observe through the eyes of various companions, too, so I doubt I will grow tired of the narrative concept Haley is going for here.
Quinn is being built up for some pretty big reveals in the future, and I cannot wait to find out what Haley has in mind, both in terms of his backstory and future endeavours.

Unlike the previous book, there are few regular zombies about. Instead we get some very nasty looks at the ghouls inhabiting Old Columbus, including the Ghoul King himself. Filthy buggers, all of them, just the right amount of creepy yet realistic in depiction, and fitting right into this world.
But once again, fight scenes are limited to where they were needed. I love that Quinn urges caution, while still being willing to take risks and do what is required. He isn't a fool rushing into battle, and may seem cold, but he's definitely not a coward, as should be clear by now.

If there is one thing that disappointed me a little then it is the fate of the Ghoul King himself. Quinn's encounter with the beast was stunning, but it is left relatively ambiguous as to what happened to him in the very end. I wouldn't be surprised for the monstrosity to show up in future books, especially due to how the rest of the story's many revelations unfolded, but I was expecting something a bit more decisive this time around.
Still, I really dig the way the thing was represented. It brought to mind a very alien perversion of humanity and felt absolutely terrifying.

I honestly want this series to continue for as long as it needs to for Haley to tell the tale of Quinn. The world building is phenomenal, and The Ghoul King's scifi aspects only made things better overall. Haley played once more with artificial intelligences and its effects on humanity's course, and the creepy vibes of the abandoned post-apocalyptic city were spot on.

The novella length really works for the Dreaming Cities series. It allows enough room to maneuver, without ever getting bogged down in tedium. They are just long enough to get the reader invested in the characters, both old and new, piece things together throughout their experience, and come away satisfied with a tight narrative that sets things up nicely for a sequel.

Sequels I fully intend to read. If The Emperor's Railroad hadn't set me on that course already, The Ghoul King certainly has. It presents an impressive adventure that keeps you engaged from start to finish, and makes you wish for more.
Guy Haley has found a winning formula with this series.

The Ghoul King on Goodreads

About the Author

I'm known as DarkChaplain across the internet, and call myself a passionate gamer and book enthusiast. I have been blogging mostly about games for a couple of years, but finally found my way to reviewing a different medium: Books. Honestly, I prefer that job so far.
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain


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