Peter Newman is a cheerful sort of chap. When he’s not writing novels of his own, he’s also well known for the role of the murderous butler in the popular book podcast, Tea & Jeopardy. Newman’s previous series, The Vagrant and its sequels, was a grim dark blend of high fantasy, techno-weirdness and grinding but compelling narrative.
It would be inaccurate to say that The Deathless is more of the same, as the author has clearly improved in terms of nuance and approach. Newman has created a new and original world for his latest series and yet his basic style and motif remain unchanged. Or to put it another way, if you loved The Vagrant you’re going to be delighted by The Deathless.
The story revolves around the machinations of the titular Deathless. These are ‘sort of immortal’ beings who have their souls ‘re-housed’ in the bodies of their descendants upon death. Their primary duty is to fight back the hordes of demons that infest the world. They have a collection of wonderful toys, including incredible armour and weapons that allow for some spectacular action scenes. Monsters lurk in the Wilds, each with its own horrible abilities and gifts to employ on any mortal dumb enough to stray off the path. Humanity, for the most part, shelters itself via vast crystalline mega-structures, connected by the impressive ‘God Roads’. The delicate balance collapses when one of the houses seemingly loses its grip on reality and their actions (and lack of action) seem to threaten the delicate balance that keeps everyone alive.
The Deathless has that addictive blend of gritty super-science and high fantasy aesthetic that will be familiar to fans of the likes of Nemesis the Warlock, Warhammer 40,000 and Krull. However, all of this is accomplished with a unique smoothness that makes the world as believable as it is ridiculous. The actual plot is one of warring families and internecine politics, interspersed with weird ideas, horrible creatures and multiple perspectives. Newman integrates world-building into his storytelling effortlessly and the pacing is exceptionally well judged. You find yourself at the end of the book in a flash and are immediately left wanting more; a pretty impressive feat for episodic fantasy storytelling.