H.M. Long’s sophomore novel, Temple of No God, follows up on 2021’s Hall of Smoke, though it is billed by the publisher as a standalone novel in the same world rather than a sequel. I thoroughly enjoyed both books – I loved Hall of Smoke’s approach to the concept of deities and Long’s detailed world building, as well as Hessa’s unusual character as a warrior priestess. To me, Temple of No God feels more like a delayed sequel rather than a true standalone novel in the same world. I would have struggled to understand many of the references made to details in the world building – which is one of Long’s greatest strengths as a writer – if I had not read Hall of Smoke before diving into Temple of No God. Thus, I would recommend treating them as a series and reading in order if you can.
Temple of No God sets in a dozen or so years after the end of the first book, and while Hessa is still our main focus, her life has changed quite a bit. She is married – again – to Imnir, an Algatt and High Priest of Thvynder, a relationship that is ultimately at the centre of this story. They live in more of a political alliance than a truly romantic relationship when we meet them. The world is still changed due to the events at the end of Hall of Smoke, the relations between Gods and Men irrevocably changed after Hessa slew Eang, the Goddess she had been dedicated to. Temple significantly expands the scope of the world by having Hessa, Imnir and their companions travel to the Arpa Empire to the south where a dangerous cult is rising and various factions are vying for political dominance.
The story is once again full of action, drama, strongly written characters with depth and nuance and, of course, fabulous world building and interactions with the divine. Hessa is both impulsive and capable of great forethought, and as a warrior priestess, she is a wonderful and unusual leading character. Set in a Viking-inspired secondary world, Long’s novels are epic fantasy at its best, combining quests with a good dash of grittiness but also heart and charm and always putting the characters and their relationships at the centre of the stories. Very much a recommended read.