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Liane Merciel – Heaven’s Needle

June 15, 2011

76. Heaven’s Needle by Liane Merciel (2011)
Ithelas, Book 2

Read my review of book:
1. The River Kings’ Road

Length: 474 pages
Genre: Fantasy, Horror

Started: 02 June 2011
Finished: 05 June 2011

Where did it come from? From the publisher for review.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 16 May 2011.

The good guys must fight
against Madness that infects
the mind AND body.

Summary: The ruined castle of Duradh Mal lurks in the hills above the town of Carden Vale. Ever since its destruction, the fortress has been a place of fear and menace, gripped as it is in the throes of the Mad God’s power, but now something dark has been loosed, and Maol’s influence has begun to spread from Duradh Mal into the surrounding mountains. The high priest of the goddess Celestia was unaware of how bad things were when he sends two young Illuminers to minister to the people of Carden Vale, guarded only by a exiled woman warrior from the northern tribes. Also headed to Carden Vale are Kelland, the Sun Knight; Bitharn, his lifelong friend and partner; and Malentir, a Thorn of the Spider of Ang’arta, a cult dedicated to the goddess of pain. They are unlikely – and uneasy – allies, but they will need all of their separate powers if they are to have any hope of escaping from Duradh Mal with their minds and bodies intact against the taint of the Mad God.

Review: Heaven’s Needle improves on the first book in the series, The River Kings’ Road, in a number of ways. Its focus is tighter, giving Merciel more room to develop her characters and their stories, instead of the sprawling surplus of POV characters that overwhelmed the first book. She also does a better job of spinning her worldbuilding and history into a convincing and complete backdrop for the action of the story. Even her prose, which I already thought was smooth in The River Kings’ Road, has matured even further.

However, while I can objectively recognize that Heaven’s Needle is better-written and better-plotted than The River Kings’ Road, I liked it less. The tone of the book veered away from the high fantasy of the first book and straight into heavy horror – gory torture-based horror, to be specific. It’s a dark, dark book – not just emotionally dark, but physically, painfully dark – and a lot of parts are exceptionally disturbing. It’s not a style that I go for (at all), and by the midway point, it had gotten to be too much for me; I had to steel myself to push through some of the more gruesome bits. So, while Merciel’s definitely gaining skill as an author, this book was just not for me. 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Although this is technically the second book in the series, there’s very little plot overlap with The River Kings’ Road, and only Bitharn and Kelland appear in both, so it could easily be read independently. It’d probably be best for established horror fans, though; I normally don’t mind dark fantasy, but I found this book to be too disturbingly gory.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Fantasy Book Critic, Speculative Book Review, vvb32 Reads
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First Line: The stench of river mud was suffocating.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 18, 2011 9:44 am

    I am so squeamish, I like dark fantasy that’s, you know, spooky and bleak, but I can’t be doing with torture. I am just about able to watch the HBO Game of Thrones, and I think I’ll be able to enjoy the books. But I’m not sure that anything darker would be manageable.

    • June 20, 2011 2:33 pm

      Jenny – Oh, yes, you need to stay far, far away from this book. Game of Thrones is not shy about doing nasty, nasty things to its characters (as you know from the show), but I feel like the gore is kept at least somewhat “offscreen.” (Not always, of course.) But this book…. eesh, so, I have a thing about eye violence, and there’s some of the grossest eye violence I’ve ever encountered, just casually plunked in the middle of a scene. Blech.

  2. Rene permalink
    September 25, 2011 12:15 pm

    I was so disappointed with this. Its as if she forgot to write a story and tried to make it up in gore! What on earth happened to writing a story vs writing a sermon! My advise is stay away!!

  3. Cima permalink
    April 20, 2012 11:56 am

    i was disappointed with the writing for this book. There were sections where I felt the descriptions were too much but didn’t add to the plot and then there were parts where a little bit more of being specific in the description could have helped portray the situation better. I would have thought that some character development could have been in store for Kelland but he doesn’t seem to have changed much.

    [Minor spoiler alert] It would have been interesting to see how he would have coped or changed after being through a very tough time at the hands of the Thorns. But it doesn’t seem to be that way; he’s somewhat of a bland character He’s lacking an edge, some grit in his personality. He should be really pissed off that he was captured but there’s nothing.

    I still think there’s lots of potential in these Ithelas novels and I hope that the author would work harder to improve her craft. The world of Ithelas is fertile ground for lots of stories and it’s interesting to see how the rivalries pan out between the Celestians and the Thorns.

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