Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Review: The Will of the Many by James Islington

The Will of the Many (Hierarchy #1) by James Islington
Gallery/Saga Press
Publication Date: May 23rd, 2023
Hardcover. 630 pages.

About The Will of the Many:

"IAUDI. VIDE. TACE.

The Catenan Republic – the Hierarchy – may rule the world now, but they do not know everything.

I tell them my name is Vis Telimus.

I tell them I was orphaned after a tragic accident three years ago, and that good fortune alone has led to my acceptance into their most prestigious school. I tell them that once I graduate, I will gladly join the rest of civilised society in allowing my strength, my drive and my focus – what they call Will – to be leeched away and added to the power of those above me, as millions already do. As all must eventually do. I tell them that I belong, and they believe me.

But the truth is that I have been sent to the Academy to find answers. To solve a murder. To search for an ancient weapon. To uncover secrets that may tear the Republic apart.

And that I will never, ever cede my Will to the empire that executed my family.

To survive, though, I will still have to rise through the Academy’s ranks. I will have to smile, and make friends, and pretend to be one of them and win. Because if I cannot, then those who want to control me, who know my real name, will no longer have any use for me.

And if the Hierarchy finds out who I truly am, they will kill me."

The Licanius Trilogy is one of my favorite trilogies, and I'd been anxiously awaiting something new from James Islington ever since finishing the The Light of All that Falls that could fill that void of having finished one of the best series. And fortunately, The Will of the Many more than delivered. This book blew my mind in all of the best possible ways, and I still can't believe some of the things that happened. I genuinely still think about this book almost daily and have the worst book hangover ever trying to find something else to read after. 

The Will of the Many follows Vis Telimus, an orphaned young man who is currently working at a prison when we first meet him, regularly fights in tournaments on the side for extra money, and vows to never let the empire take his Will from him to power their Hierarchy (don't worry, I'll explain what this is later in the review!). Vis' entire family was killed by the Hierarchy and now he is set upon a path to uncover truths of the Catenan Republic, and along the way he is forced into a variety of different paths to undertake and additional mysteries to uncover, all of which make for a story that has something new to discover on nearly every page. 

Vis has to be one of my new favorite protagonists. I feel like so many fantasy stories that follow young adults portray them as reckless, na├»ve, or otherwise just not quite as mature as they are implied to be and I end up very frustrated with them. Not so in The Will of the Many! Vis is my dream come true. Vis is angry, determined, and ridiculously sharp. He knows that there is no room for mistakes at just about any step of the way towards his goals. He is not shy and is not afraid to put himself out there when necessary to make a mark or achieve what he knows is needed. Even when Vis does make mistakes, there is a calculated coolness to him that is so captivating and admirable to watch. While reading The Will of the Many, I quite literally kept remarking to my husband at various intervals how much I loved Vis. He's almost ruthless in a way that I love, but still very much has strong convictions and a moral compass that I found admirable in how he did his best to never step over the boundaries he set up for himself. 

There are a lot of moral quandaries and issues that pop up in this book, from the rebels to his own struggles at school, and I appreciated the way Islington shared his inner monologue and the frustrations he went through in his thought process to decide what was the next best step in his journey. I could see where Vis maybe seems "too good" at times at everything he does, but I think I would disagree only because it's very clear he has trained and worked hard to be as good as he is. From his youth until this point, he has constantly pushed himself and studied to be where he is, which makes things fit for me--not to mention that he does make some costly mistakes at times. Vis is a wonderfully complex and multidimensional character that I cannot wait to meet up with again in the sequel.

There are also a variety of supporting characters that were just as multi-faceted and well-developed, such as Ulcisor, a mysterious man who completely derails Vis' plans and subsequently sets Vis on a new path; and Callidus and Eidhin, two friends Vis acquires along the way. I loved Callidus and Eidhin about as much as I loved Vis, and I thought the two brought so much balance to Vis' own personality, as well as added much-needed color and interest to his journey. Both Callidus and Eidhin come from very unique backgrounds compared to each other and to Vis, and I really appreciated getting to learn about their own experiences and how they have been shaped into who they are today, and how those experiences also influence their current actions. Also, they were both hilarious in their own ways with their personalities and how they all interacted with one another and it brought so much joy to my reading of this book. Ulcisor is much more enigmatic and I still genuinely cannot decide if I trust him or not, but I appreciate his consistency and ability to really focus on getting done what he needs to get done. 

The magic system is both very simple and a little bit confusing, but I'll do my best to explain it as accurately and succinctly as possible. The Catenan Republic is ruled and ordered by the Hierarchy, a powerful group who control the Republic via pyramidal systems of power. People have what is known as Will, which is essentially like a life force consisting of your energy and abilities, and Will can be ceded to more powerful figures in society to in turn make them more powerful. There is an entire system based on this that starts with the lowest ranking, Octavus, which is where most civilians stand. An Octavus cedes half of their Will to a Septimus, who receives will from eight people at Octavus ranking, and so on and so forth all the way up to the Princeps, who receives will from a total of over forty thousand people and is considered the most powerful. It's still taking my brain a little bit of work to really ground myself in how this all works, but I have no doubt that future books will play with this system much more and we as readers will really have a chance to dive deeper into this magic system to learn more about it and all of its implications for how it works. There are a lot of aspects of the Will and the magic system to explore and that I could talk about in more depth, but for the sake of brevity in this review (brevity which I'm sure has already been surpassed, sorry!), I'll hold off an let you explore it for yourself when you read this book. 

The setting of the Will of the Many is fascinating. It takes place in a post-Cataclysm world where the people seem to still somewhat be picking up the pieces form the previous age and have yet to attain the levels of advancement and technology that previously existed. As you can probably tell from many of the terms in this book, this is a very Roman-inspired setting that shares many similarities, and just as many dissimilarities. There are so many details provided for this world, many of which probably have meaning we don't even understand yet, and others that serve to cement the world-building in order to successful create a grounded, fully-realized world. We get a lot of hints of other influences as well, such as with Eidhin and Vis' ethnicities and cultures hinted at being less common at the Academy compared to the rest, and I'm very curious to find out more about how all of that will continue to be interwoven into future installments.

We don't travel to too many different locations in this book, but of the places that we do get to travel to with Vis I found there to be a lot of variety and potential for future books to explore more. Every time the story did take a turn into a different location, I found myself craving to learn more about that location or what it's history was and it's current status within the Hierarchy. I am assuming the future installments will explore much more of this world and I can't wait for that because of how rich the world feels, as well as the fact that I feel like there are so many secrets and mysteries to uncover. And that's truly one of the most exciting things about this book–I know there are endless ancient mysteries lurking and the foreshadowing and hints of things to come that we get in this first book having me dying to keep uncovering more. 

Although a good amount of time is spent in locations other than the Catenan Academy, the majority of the time is spent at this Academy on the isolated island of Solivagus, and I really enjoyed our time spent there. As much as I've loved school settings in the past, I have admittedly found myself get a little fatigued of them and the consistent tropes (the bully, the gruff teacher who ends up aiding the student, the mean teacher, etc.), and I was so thrilled when I found that this book didn't really follow those tropes in the ways I'm used to! Sure, there are always school elements that are going to be present, but this school has such a unique setup for the levels of students within it that nothing really felt like any other book I'd read, and I loved that so much.

The pacing of this book is genuinely, in my opinion, as close to perfect as you can get. There's a near-perfect balance of action, character development, world-building, and dialogue sprinkled throughout. I had a hard time putting this book down when I had to do other things in my life, and I was almost constantly counting down until when I got to pick it up again. That being said, it was also one of those books that I think I inadvertently read extra slowly because I wanted it to last as long as possible, and even doing that I never felt that the book moved too slowly or rushed in any place. I really think there's a little something for everyone: a magic systems that has a lot of different ideas and concepts to unpack, strong, careful characterization and development, world-building that tied into the narrative effortlessly and did not feel like excessive info-dumping, and high-intensity moments that included both action-packed events and moments that weren't necessarily high action, but still very intense. All of these together created such a consistent flow of movement along the narrative that it felt like a truly distinctive read that I was utterly engrossed in

Lastly, I just have to say that this does end on a bit of a cliffhanger. It's not like literally hanging off a cliff style, but it's enough that I'm chomping at the bit to get more. It's absolutely worth it though because the way it leaves us is one of those places where it'll lend itself to so much fun discussion and theorizing in the interim period between now and getting our hands on the sequel. 

The Will of the Many is a resounding success in the fantasy genre and is sure to become a classic. I would love to rave about this book more, but rather than continuing to read my words about it, I would highly suggest you go pick up a copy of The Will of the Many and read those words about it instead! Overall, it's an easy five stars from me!

*I received a copy of The Will of the Many courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon | Bookshop.org

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