Meet Caltro Basalt. He’s a master locksmith, a selfish bastard, and as of his first night in Araxes, stone cold dead.
They call it the City of Countless Souls, the colossal jewel of the Arctian Empire, and all it takes to be its ruler is to own more ghosts than any other. For in Araxes, the dead do not rest in peace in the afterlife, but live on as slaves for the rich.
While Caltro struggles to survive, those around him strive for the emperor’s throne in Araxes’ cutthroat game of power. The dead gods whisper from corpses, a soulstealer seeks to make a name for himself with the help of an ancient cult, a princess plots to purge the emperor from his armoured Sanctuary, and a murderer drags a body across the desert, intent on reaching Araxes no matter the cost.
Only one thing is certain in Araxes: death is just the beginning.
In addition to being a gifted mapmaker, a charismatic vlogger, and an all-around super friendly dude, Ben Galley is also an incredibly talented writer. And while Chasing Graves is only the second book of his that I’ve read, it’s easy to see why he’s one of the bigger names in the self-published fantasy world.
Without a doubt, it was Galley’s book, The Heart of Stone, that got me very interested in reading more self-published fantasy books. Prior to that, I had only read a couple of other self-published novels, and they just didn’t do anything for me. So as much as I’m embarrassed to admit it now, I was a bit wary when it came to self-published books. And then, oof, The Heart of Stone just fucking knocked me down & pummeled my emotions. Such a great book!
But anyhow, on to Chasing Graves! First of all, a MASSIVE thank you to Ben for sending me not one, but two copies of this incredible book. We may never know where the first one he sent wound up, but I like to think it somehow fell into the hands of someone who’d appreciate it!
This is the first book in The Chasing Graves Trilogy, all of which are available now! Galley released these books very close together, which I know is something a lot of fantasy readers really love…not having to wait a year between releases and whatnot.
Our main character is Caltro Basalt, a master locksmith, and kind of a scoundrel. When we meet Caltro, he’s aboard a ship heading for the city of Araxes. He’s received a mysterious summons/job offer, and he’s thrilled to visit Araxes for the first time. Except…Araxes is known to be an incredibly dangerous city. So much so that Caltro doesn’t want to disembark when the ship arrives in port after sunset.
Because Araxes is full (and I mean full) of ghosts.
The rich & powerful citizens of Araxes bind the spirits of the dead, and use them as slaves. The more ghosts you own, the more powerful you are. Some of these ghosts were the result of natural deaths, and others…not so much. There’s an illegal market for ghosts, and that’s where Caltro finds himself. Dead. Murdered almost immediately after getting off the ship (this isn’t a spoiler, it’s in the damn synopsis!), and sold into slavery. It’s shit luck, but Caltro is cunning & crafty, and that mysterious summons may hold the key to his freedom.
There are four main POVs in Chasing Graves. In addition to Caltro’s, there’s also:
-Empress-in-Waiting Sisine, who is not so secretly attempting to assume power, now that her father, the Emperor, has locked himself away.
-Nilith, a woman who has killed her husband, and is making an incredibly dangerous journey to Araxes in order to bind his soul.
-Boss Boran Temsa, the crime lord responsible for killing & selling Caltro. Temsa is a pretty ruthless character with a short temper, and he also has a an artificial leg, fashioned into eagle claws made from gold. Yikes.
Caltro’s POV is first-person, while the others are written in third-person. Galley moves nimbly between these POVs, and while Caltro is the main character, the book is still rather well balanced amongst the four.
There is a lot happening in this first book! It’s clear that a ton of thought & planning has gone into the world building for this trilogy, and the results speak for themselves. Chasing Graves is just fucking fantastic! There’s such a beautiful quality to Galley’s prose, but it’s never at the expense of the story. This book is compulsively readable! I felt like the writing shone the brightest during Caltro’s sections…honestly, it’s some of the best first-person narration I’ve read in awhile, and reminded me a little bit of Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire & Red Queen’s War trilogies.
The book is also physically stunning!! The creepy cover art by Chris Cold, the awesome maps by the author himself, the epic cover design by STK Kreations…the cover art also appears on each chapter page in black & white. This thing comes together in such a radical way!
Chasing Graves is the start of what I’m sure will be an incredible trilogy. It’s creepy & weird & gory & funny…the action scenes are badass, the characters complex, and the writing is just so totally captivating. I loved this!
This review is part of the Ben Galley Ultimate Blog Tour hosted by The Write Reads! Thanks for having me along!
Ben Galley is an author of dark and epic fantasy books who currently hails from Victoria, Canada. Since publishing his debut The Written in 2010, Ben has released a range of award-winning fantasy novels, including the weird western Bloodrush and the epic standalone The Heart of Stone. He is also the author of the brand new Chasing Graves Trilogy.
Again, huge thanks to Ben Galley for sending Chasing Graves my way!!