REVIEW: The House of Sacrifice by Anna Smith Spark

Last Updated on March 8, 2024

Anna Smith Spark’s The House of Sacrifice is one of the most emotionally tolling pieces of fiction I’ve ever read. It completes Empires of Dust, one of the best fantasy trilogies in recent memory. I’m equal parts shattered and satisfied. I want a hug. Or a whiskey. Or something. Anything.

The House of Sacrifice wraps up the downright bloody tragic stories of Marith and Thalia, Orhan and Bil and Darath, and Landra and Tobias. We follow the army of Amrath as it smears blood and death and destruction across the land, unstoppable in their march to conquer the world for their god king. Marith is as self destructive and tragic as ever, Thalia is torn between having enough of her addict and the deeply-rooted love she has for just about the worst bloke on earth, and the rest of the cast are either in the way or riding the coattails of the army of Amrath.

Now, let’s get into the best part of Anna’s books: her magnificent characters.

In the brief calm before the storm that is Anna’s writing, we are gifted a brief insight into Thalia’s mind—her questions on why she shouldn’t be happy. Why should she murder Marith for the greater good, when he is the person who makes her happy? Why should she break herself and her happiness to murder the god of death when most won’t even give a copper to a beggar? Why is hers the greater evil?

And just like that, we are thrust back into the butchery, the almost mythological descriptions of Marith as he bleeds the world. The break-neck speed storytelling that somehow manages to be both so beautiful in prose and visceral in its depiction of the land is just magnificent—easily the most unique voice in fantasy at the moment.

Marith’s fear and want for his incoming child is amazing and sickening and terrifying to behold. And his wrestle between his impending fatherhood and the needs of an insatiable army who won’t be dismissed is massive—a roller coaster he one second can’t find a way to get off, and the next second wants to go faster.

And amongst all this, there is a traitor in his ranks, maybe in his inner circle…

Our man Tobias is still with the camp followers of the army of Amrath. Still dirty on himself for not killing Marith when he had the chance to stop this wave of bloodshed before it grew into a tsunami. His inner monologues provide a refreshing bit of humour away from the unbelievable level of grit and horror in this book, and his character development is a thoroughly enjoyable part of the book. (I may have been fist pumping as he comes into his own at then end…)

Landra wanders in the wake of the army of Amrath, watching beauty spring up in the wake of devastation, seeing ruins of once populous cities, almost like a spiritual pilgrimage—or investigation—into the godhood of Marith. Trying to find a crack she can expose, somewhere to drive a killing blade into Marith. Vengeance is what she seeks, at any cost.

Orhan has spent four years in poverty. Servants gone. Wealth gone. Titles gone. All he has left is his wife Bil, who he cannot love, his lover Darath whose spirit clings by the slightest sliver of strength (or desperation), and his son, who isn’t his son, and the ongoing lamentation of all that he has lost. Once the nithique and second most powerful man in all of Sorlost, he is now but a forlorn shadow wandering in a city where all his greatest fears have come true but perhaps aren’t as bad as he feared when he fell from favour.

Smith Spark continues to paint such beautiful and vivid scenes–it’s like watching music. The opening 20% is an absolute fever dream experience with all the above twisting into an experience like no other series in fantasy. Her pace builds and builds throughout and the last hundred pages disappear like you ripped them from the spine and threw them into the wind. It’s visceral and engulfing and I honestly need a mental break after it. Holy shit.

I cannot recommend this series enough. Pick up it. Love it; don’t love it; just experience it.

If you haven’t started the series, check out The Court of Broken Knives, and The Tower of Living and Dying.

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Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins runs Grimdark Magazine and loves anything to do with telling darker stories. Doesn't matter the format, or when it was published or produced--just give him a grim story told in a dark world by a morally grey protagonist and this bloke's in his happy place. Add in a barrel aged stout to sip on after a cheeky body surf under the Australian sun, and that's his heaven.