Review: Kagen the Damned #1 (Jonathan Maberry)

Kagen Vale, leaders of the guard and personally responsible for the security of the royal family and more specifically the royal children of Argentium, wakes up hungover and disoriented. Eventually, he pulls himself together enough to understand that there’s an active attack against his land by the Hakkians, who use magic that was banned in Argentium. When he arrives at the royal wing, he finds all of them, right down to the babies, killed in various gruesomely described ways. He decides at that moment that he is incompetent, terrible at his job, and damned.

I’m a firm believer that what matters when tragedy strikes, or when some life situation goes terribly wrong and bad, that what matters is owning your responsibility in it, if any, and that true character is shown by how one acts after such tragedies occur.

And his personal mindset of mind had a very large issue with Kagen and his nonstop whining, drinking, and lamenting about how he sucked at his job. I started calling him Kagen the Whiny, and promised myself at about the 35% mark that if he didn’t get his shit together, I was going to make this a DNF. The author pulled out of the nosedive shortly thereafter.

While Kagen was drinking and whining his way about this fictional world, other characters were also introduced – some appeared and hen vanished until almost the end of he book. I get that Kagen is the main character and so much of he book time is devote to him, but we got some pretty detailed narrative time with the other characters, including a young nun destined for a sacrifice, so I was expecting a bit more from her at some point before the end of her journey.

There are various side characters who show up, either for Kagen to fight against and kill, or just to give us some information about what’s happening in the rest of the world instead of the usual “As you know, Bob.” stuff where someone just talks at he main character. I hope some of them show up again later, because they were just as interesting (sometimes moreso) than Kagen.

But Kagen is back to himself by now, halting he drinking, and even invading a vampire witch’s tower, where he is “captured”, but not killed, as every other interloper has been. There’s a prophecy, of course, and she lets him go because of that prophecy.

And that brings me to another issue I have with this kind of book in general. Kagen was obviously taken out of action by a woman who drugged him. My question: why not just poison him and take him out of action entirely?I understand the value of humiliation some people require others to feel, to know that they have been bested, and with barely any effort, but in things like this, a better leader would have weighed the value of having Kagen gone versus his humiliation and gone with the former.

In any case, throughout the book we pop into the heads of other characters wandering around this world, so we get a good picture of what has happened and how the occupation of Argentium is ongoing. It presents a good reference point for the reader, and avoids head-hopping within any one individual scene.

There is a lot, and I mean a LOT of violence in this book: torture, rape, general war and individual fighters killing one another – all are here, and all described in very detailed ways. If you can’t handle fictional blood, or don’t like descriptions of rape and torture, stay far away.

It occurred to me after finishing that the whole magic question came across as the usual 2nd Amendment stuff here in the US. One side (Hakkian) had and used all the magic (guns) and one side (Argentium) had no magic (guns) because of very strict laws. Of course the Hakkians quickly overran Argentium. I’ll let the reader make the conclusion there.

Overall, not bad for an afternoon read if you can get past the main character whining his way through the first 30% so and don’t mind gore.

Three stars out of five.

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press ad NetGalley for the review copy.

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