Review of Hall of Smoke by H.M Long

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.

Firstly a huge thank you as always to the team at Titan Books for sending a me a finished copy of this book for review, the cover is just stunning For a debut fantasy H.M. Long smashed it out of the park, what an undiscovered gem of an author, her writing pulled me in from the very first page with a world and characters that completely captured my imagination. As a reader we are gently eased into a complex world of humans, godlike, and gods old and new alongside of our protagonist, Hessa. She is our constant and we never leave her side throughout the story, it is very much hers and her journey to redemption is seldom strayed from. I really enjoyed the Viking style and feel to the world which was written in a really engaging way, I couldn’t wait to pick the story back up as more and more information was fed to us, whipping up to an astounding finale.

Hall of smoke is very much a journey driven story and one where I felt that the movement between sections was woven well. I easily became lost in the world as Hessa found herself both frighteningly alone at times and also easily taken into the care of strangers under the wonderfully named Hearth Law. Hessa throughout the story is grieving, be it her husband, her family, her village or her faith. Her fragility is at times allowed to splinter through her warrior exterior allowing us to see moments of vulnerability, moments where she is clearly shaken to the core. This gives such a humanising effect to Hessa, who despite being often pulled between loyalties, is singularly driven to put things right.

I loved the dynamic of the gods and whilst there was a huge complexity their nature, sometimes amiable and other times feral, they always felt they were either toying with Hessa or each other. Their in fighting and elitism, even within their own ranks, gave good explanation as to why things were falling apart in the way that they were. Sections within the Halls were beautifully painted, with a wonderful cinematic quality. The world building throughout was poetically written and helped to make this book such an immersive experience.

A small gripe is that the font is just tiny, it might be my eyes getting old but I honestly really struggled at times and sadly that did pull me out of the story as it left me feeling tired whilst reading, Hall of smoke is a very long story, and whilst I am so grateful it didn’t get dragged out into a duology an extra 100 pages in the paperback would have made it it better reading experience. I did also feel that the story often missed out on bringing depth to some of the side characters, but as this is totally Hessa’s story, I understand why that is.

The battles are epic and the writing is no holds barred when it comes to the violence and graphic depiction of death, so be prepared for that. Ultimately though, I found Hall of Smoke to be a wonderfully written and immersive story which for me breathed new life into adult epic fantasy books.