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 and 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. (publisher)
Hessa is an Eangi warrior-priestess who gets punished for disobeying a direct order to kill a lone traveller. After her village is destroyed and believing to be the last Eangi left, she vows to kill the traveller and fulfil her task. But during her quest, she learns things about the gods that threaten her lifelong beliefs and her devotion to them. Old gods are trying to get back their power from the new gods.
The story is told from Hessa’s point of view, and she was a likeable character and a loyal to her friends. It was interesting to see how Hessa goes from being a devoted follower to question everything and doubting the gods. She hadn’t travelled far from her village before and now seeing different places and customs makes her question things more. During her journey, she meets Nisien, a Souldorni horseman, who is more cynic towards the gods and their powers. They become close friends, but it was nice that they stayed just friends through the book. I hope we learn more about Estavius in the next book.
I liked how big part the gods played in peoples lives. Like you could actually talk and interact, and occasionally fight, with them. Somehow that, and their actions, made me think Xena/Hercules world and the line from Hercules intro kept playing in my head: “… a time of myth and legend, when the ancient gods were petty and cruel…” Maybe that’s just me but yeah… Everyone keeps talking about the Viking style and all I can think is Xena…
What a great debut and I’m definitely looking forward to reading more from the author!
Published: Titan Books (January 19, 2021)