ARC Review: Lightblade by Zamil Akhtar

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In three days, Jyosh will slay the God Emperor, or die trying.

But first he must train his lightblade skills. While asleep.

Each hour of sleep equals a day in a lucid dream, plenty of time to master the essential lightblade techniques and hopefully get skilled enough to defeat the monster who enslaved him and beheaded his parents and sister.

When Jyosh awakens to learn that the God Emperor has surrendered to an even crueler foe, a mysterious lightblade master who can summon divine dragons to burn whole cities, he’ll face a trial by fire against forces far more frightening than he could ever dream.

That is, if he’s not still in one. 

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I had seen a lot about Gunmetal Gods on Twitter before and even bought the book, but I just never got the time to get to it among my huge tbr. So when I saw that the author’s new series was coming, I requested him for an advance copy and was very excited when he sent it to me. That gorgeous cover was also very enticing and I hoped that the book would be equally amazing too. And it turned out to be something so so different from the books I usually read.

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I’ve had an idea what a progression fantasy means but having never read anything in the subgenre and no experience in playing video games, it took me a while into this book to realize what the essence of the subgenre is. But before that, I have to mention, the strength of the book is the world building and mythology. To be honest, I don’t think I can even describe this world in my own words because it was too wondrous and huge and I still think we have a ways to go to understand it better, and the mythology with the gods and their avatars and the dreamers is all very very intriguing. The author does a marvelous job revealing bits of it as we progress through the book, mostly learning everything along with our main character. The descriptions of the cities, weapons, landscapes, dream worlds, dragons and more are all absolutely stunning and as someone who loves skipping descriptive passages, I couldn’t do that here. The line between dream and reality is very thin here and it’s very easy to get lost in it. The writing is easy to engage with and despite not being familiar with the kind of fantasy this book was, I found the concepts easy to grasp and read it pretty fast. The pacing is pretty great, with action packed scenes interspersed between quiet ones, giving us enough times to digest all the information without feeling overwhelmed. The last quarter of the book was probably the best with so many more reveals and epic fight scenes, and a couple of short chapters full of unbelievable descriptions which I can’t even articulate properly.

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And while it is a mostly plot driven book, the characters are not any less fleshed out. Jyosh took a while for me to like because I wasn’t sure what his motivations were but he was also unsure what he wanted to do, because he hasn’t had much of a choice for a long part of his life. Despite his insecurities, he is also ready to learn and progress and I loved watching him train and learn to fight, strengthening not just his body but mind too. And we slowly come to see his capacity for love and compassion, how his own suffering has made him a person who doesn’t want others to suffer.

He is ably supported in his endeavors by some amazing strong women and I frankly couldn’t choose who I liked more. Zauri is the first person Joysh bonds with and while it may feel like instalove, it feels natural due to his circumstances and Zauri tries her best to help him learn to fight and survive. Kaur can come across as grumpy and uncaring but she has her own traumas and is only trying to do what she thinks is right. Saina is a healer who is devoted to her vocation and is hoping to find her way back to her god. They all start with some mistrust between them, each having their own goals and being secretive about them, but slowly they all come to care for each other and work together to save the world.

We only have some formidable villains here and while I don’t wanna give up much about them, I thought the author used these villains to show us the way brainwashing works, how a person’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities can be twisted to make them believe deeply about something, and how fanatical beliefs can lead to death and destruction. These themes form the major backdrop of this story, along with questioning what is real and what is not, and whether temporary suffering is justifiable in the hope of attaining some kind of Nirvana.

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Overall, this was a very enjoyable book while also being bleak and dark at times. The characters are slow to warm up to but we eventually start caring about them; but ultimately it’s the world building and lore where the author shines and creates something that is unique and unforgettable. I think fans of progression fantasy genre will definitely love and appreciate this more than someone like me will, but I was also quite impressed and I’m eager to see where this story goes next.

5 star

PS: Thank you so much to the author for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.

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