Chained by Fear, book two in Jim Melvin’s Death Wizard Chronicles, begins the story of Laylah, the beautiful sister of the evil sorcerer Invictus. Invictus has imprisoned Laylah in a magical tower, hoping that she’ll one day become his queen and rule the world of Triken with him.
Laylah, however, happens to be the sane one in the family. She’s repulsed at the thought of marrying her own brother, let alone spending her life with a depraved lunatic with god-like powers. She’s locked away for seventy years—her demon blood gives her long life—before finally escaping with the help of Invictus’s former allies.
While on the run, she meets Torg the Death-Knower, a powerful wizard in his own right. We last saw Torg in Forged in Death, after he had escaped Invictus’s vile prison and made some roguish friends. When Laylah and Torg meet, sparks fly. Literally. They are drawn to each other in a supernatural passion that neither can explain. They only know that their fates are entwined and that they will live or die together.
But Invictus has something to say about this. He unleashes his hideous minions to retrieve Laylah and finally destroy the Death-Knower, the one being in all of Triken that can oppose him.
When you pick up a Jim Melvin novel, you know you’re in for two things:
(1) Melvin excels at world-building. Triken’s cultures, magic, and monsters all resonate with real-world mythologies. But Melvin adds unique twists that make them at once familiar and alien.
(2) Melvin’s Death Wizard Chronicles are adult fantasy. Make no mistake, this series if far more G.R.R. Martin than J.R.R. Tolkien due to its sexual content and violence. However, I did not think the sex and violence were gratuitous, and I thought it helped illustrate either the depravity or kindness of the characters.
Chained by Fear resolves a minor quibble I had with Forged in Death. Torg was too powerful in book one, and nothing could hurt him unless he allowed it. It’s the challenge that Superman’s writers have dealt with for decades: how do you make readers worry about a character who can’t be hurt?
Melvin solved this by giving Torg cherished friends. He may not die if he fails, but his friends surely will, and in gruesome ways. Torg’s adventures were far more harrowing this time around, and gave him the chance to demonstrate his honor and strength while he protected the people he loves. Melvin nicely sets up a character in Torg who is the polar opposite of the wicked Invictus.
And the fact they love the same woman will make their inevitable battle viciously personal. I’m looking forward to it.
[Note: Cross-posted at The New Podler Review of Books.]