Hall of Smoke by H.M. Long
An epic fantasy featuring warrior priestesses and fickle gods at war
Hessa is an Eangi: a warrior priestess of the Goddess of War, with the power to turn an enemy’s bones to dust with a scream. Banished for disobeying her goddess’s command to murder a traveller, she prays for forgiveness alone on a mountainside.
While she is gone, raiders raze her village and obliterate the Eangi priesthood. Grieving and alone, Hessa – the last Eangi – must find the traveller, atone for her weakness and secure her place with her loved ones in the High Halls. As clans from the north and legionaries from the south tear through her homeland, slaughtering everyone in their path, Hessa strives to win back her goddess’ favour.
Beset by zealot soldiers, deceitful gods, and newly-awakened demons at every turn, Hessa burns her path towards redemption and revenge. But her journey reveals a harrowing truth: the gods are dying and the High Halls of the afterlife are fading. Soon Hessa’s trust in her goddess weakens with every unheeded prayer.
Thrust into a battle between the gods of the Old World and the New, Hessa realizes there is far more on the line than securing a life beyond her own death. Bigger, older powers slumber beneath the surface of her world. And they’re about to wake up.
Trigger Warnings: massacres, mourning of loved ones, genocide, poison/drugs, parental abuse, emotional trauma
Titan Books sent me an ARC. This does not change my opinion.
You had me at a fantasy heroine standing buck naked with an axe prepared to slaughter some gods.
Long brought me into a world of deep woods, brambles, berries, icy lakes, and a wonder for what lies beyond the mist. Walking into this world, I felt storytelling and world building likened to The Last Kingdom. Detail is vital. Every decision in this book is made with such precise thought and intent. You get to feel for the characters you don’t even like. That’s what choosing interesting and yet critical detail does to a story. It’s an impressive thing when an author is able to make their world detailed and keep your attention.
We find Hessa, a warrior priestess, praying to her war goddess’ forgiveness for having failed to kill a traveler. In her village, she finds a massacre. Her loved ones are gone. Her people were murdered. Then, she too is taken by the pillagers and murderers. When she escapes, she is met by gods and their plots. Hessa is stuck in the middle, between new gods and old gods.
Reading this book as an e-arc, I found myself desperately wanting that sound of cracking open a book. There’s something so atmospheric about this world that I wanted that magical feeling of peeling open a book. Touching the pages and its texture has that ability to bring me into a story. But truth be told? I didn’t need to. Long is so good at creating atmosphere. The texture of hair as Hessa braids the winter gods hair. The clash of an axe against an enemy. The deep woods and all the smells that woods conjure in a reader. It’s all so sensory.
The magic of Long’s world is in its viking-ness. Demons breaking bonds and gods of the old world. The old and the new clash in this place Hessa calls ‘the waking world.’ Long said the Romans suck and we’re ok with that. I follow the lead of a heroine that turns men’s bones to dust. A world of ladies with big muscles and their skeletal bows should really be illegal. Long reminds the reader that gender equality in fantasy can be a normal aspect of the world. A mother handing her daughter knives to fight against invaders pokes at that old notion that you only give weapons to the boys but in Hessa’s society anyone that can fight, whatever their gender, is valuable. A single gendered army is strange to her.
Am I also going to talk about how this book gives us m/f platonic relationships? Yes, let’s talk about how I rarely get to read a stand alone fantasy book that makes its beat about the atmosphere, the magic, and the platonic relationships. I’m a great lover of romantic yearnings but we can also yearn for some platonic babes.
Hall of Smoke is a deep dive into the the woods, mist, and magical mysteries of those of antique sagas just sitting and waiting be opened.