Book Review: Mordew by Alex Pheby

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GOD IS DEAD, his corpse hidden in the catacombs beneath Mordew.

In the slums of the sea-battered city a young boy called Nathan Treeves lives with his parents, eking out a meagre existence by picking treasures from the Living Mud and the half-formed, short-lived creatures it spawns. Until one day his desperate mother sells him to the mysterious Master of Mordew. 

The Master derives his magical power from feeding on the corpse of God. But Nathan, despite his fear and lowly station, has his own strength and it is greater than the Master has ever known. Great enough to destroy everything the Master has built. If only Nathan can discover how to use it. 

So it is that the Master begins to scheme against him and Nathan has to fight his way through the betrayals, secrets, and vendettas of the city where God was murdered, and darkness reigns… 

…WELCOME TO MORDEW THE FIRST IN A MONUMENTAL NEW TRILOGY

I can tell you exactly when I fell in love with this book. It was on page 13, before I even got to the start of the story and I was reading the Dramatis Personae. I came across a reference to ‘a family of elephants, unfamiliarly labelled,’ and that was it. I knew then that this was an author in whose imagination I was really going to enjoy getting lost. (Although, I’m not happy at how the unfamiliarly labelled elephants’ story turns out, Mr Pheby!)

Mordew is an amazing feat of a novel. Dense, rich, complex, perplexing and rewarding, it requires a commitment of reading and is not going to be for everyone. However, if you are a fan of gothic fantasy, dedicated and imaginative world-building, challenging characters and ideas that ask questions of you, a book that demands participation from the reader, rather than sitting as an idle bystander to the story, you will love this. It reminded me so much of my first experience of reading Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake, and left me with the same desperate anticipation to read more that I felt at the start of that trilogy.

The book describes a complicated world that is an entirely new creation and takes some time to ease yourself into. There are so many new ideas and new terms to get your head around (the glossary for this books runs to a massive 84 pages), and it is all so alien at first that the less-than-intrepid reader may be tempted to give up, feeling the going too hard. Don’t do that. Once you get over the first hurdles and suss out the terrain, the writing has such cadence you will ease into its rhythm, it will sweep you along and the sights to be found up ahead are more than worth any early effort. I promise you, this book will reward you one hundredfold for perseverance and you will be desperate for more, even once you reach the end of the 500+ pages.

The book isn’t always easy, there are some shocking developments that will rock the reader to the core. Sacrifices are made. Disturbing imagery abounds. Unfamiliarly labelled elephants! It is hard at times to know who to trust, who to pity, who to love. Good characters do bad things. Bad characters do good things, no one is entirely virtuous or entirely contemptible. In this way, if no other, Mordew is as our world and this is how we go on an emotional journey with Nathan through the pages and the streets of Mordew.

The ending may not be as you would expect or wish, but the author has set it up brilliantly for the second part of the projected trilogy and, I am hoping that it is well underway and we are not going to have to wait Game-of-Thrones-esque lengths of time for part two. This can’t be the end, it just can’t. There has to be more, an alternative, a salvation. I need to know what it is, I’m fully invested in this world, this journey now.

I had high hopes for this novel and it delivered on them in every respect, and then some. I’ve not read anything like this for a long time and it deserves wide attention and respect. Pick up a copy today and you’ll be thanking me tomorrow.

Mordew is out now in hardback and as an ebook, and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Alex was born in Essex, but moved to Worcester in his early childhood. He has masters degrees in critical theory (Manchester Metropolitan University) and creative writing (Goldsmiths) and a doctorate in critical and creative writing from the UEA. He currently lives with his wife and two children in Greenwich.

Alex’s work deals with madness and social exclusion, loss, and the middle ground between reality and fantasy. Critics have described his writing style as strange, poignant, and luminous.

Connect with Alex:

Twitter: @alexpheby

Instagram: @alexpheby

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