REVIEW: Thorns of War by João F. Silva

João F. Silva is back and better than ever in Thorns of War, a mind bending sequel that takes the visionary Smokesmiths series to incredible new heights. Equal parts action-packed and introspective, this story is a surprisingly brutal punch to the gut in all the best ways.

Thorns of WarThorns of War picks up a couple of weeks after the explosive ending of Seeds of War, continuing the harrowing tale of all our favourite, and not so favourite, broken and lost souls. The stakes are higher than ever before, and soon nothing and no one is proven to be safe when caught in a war led by the whims of the gods.

Now, it had been a while since I had read book 1, so I was quite nervous to see how I would fare getting back into this world without doing a re-read first. Luckily, Silva has graced us all with a brilliant ‘The Story So Far section (thank all that is holy), though I’d dare to say that I wouldn’t even have needed that after all. Silva eases the reader back into the world with effortless grace, and it took me exactly one page to remember why I loved this story so much in the first place.

Honestly, I don’t want to disregard the brilliance of Seeds of War, but there is simply no denying that Thorns of War is just a step up in every single way imaginable. The scope of the story and world (or should I say worlds?) expand exponentially without it feeling overwhelming, the lore deepens in the most enticing ways, the complex characters and their unconventional interpersonal relationships become even more compelling, and epicness honestly just drips off the page as smoke magic is being wielded in new and jaw-dropping ways.

Compared to its predecessor, there is a bit more action in the early stages of this novel, but overall it is still a deliciously slow-burn and character-driven narrative.  Especially Gimlore and Solvi’s tumultuous journeys in Thorns of War really pulled on my heartstrings, and I was not ready for the heartache I would feel for them. Themes of motherhood, trauma, loss, grief, guilt, regret, redemption, and healing are explored in such a painfully raw yet beautifully tender way through their eyes, giving this story a level of emotional depth that I was not ready for, yet welcomed with open arms.

I do have to admit that I was not as emotionally invested in the other POV characters featured in Thorns of War, especially the more minor and newly introduced ones, but that does not mean that their perspectives were any less compelling. The revelations in Rednow and Orberesis’ storylines were truly riveting, and their unexpected personal developments honestly fascinated and frightened me in equal measure.

Yes, I wanted to strangle Orberesis (who will make damn sure you got the memo that he is ‘GoD HimSeLf’) more times than is probably healthy. And yes, some of the magical battle sequences in here were so ethereal and high concept that my brain started to crack a bit, but at the same time I was also just revelling in the epicness of it all. Aside from E.J. Doble’s Blood and Steel Saga, I can think of no other story that has tackled themes of divinity, morality, and mental manipulation in such a uniquely captivating way, and I am truly in awe of Silva’s incredible imagination.

Moreover, I really appreciate that this story is so refreshingly diverse, especially for a dark fantasy. We’ve got a casually queer-normative world, middle-aged characters who kick ass, brutally honest mental health representation, dysfunctional but loving family dynamics, and plenty of diverse races and cultures who are accepted without judgement; this is the future of fantasy.

Safe to say, Silva has done it again. All the simmering tension slowly built up to a truly transcendent and catastrophic climax sequence that shocked me to my core and  shattered any and all expectations I had about this world and story. And all the seeds that were planted in both book 1 and the prequel novella, Ruins of Smoke (which I would say is mandatory reading at this point in the series), are now truly blossoming to their full potential, which only makes me more excited about the vision that Silva has for this epic series.

So, if you have not yet gotten a taste of Silva’s excitingly wild imagination and exceptionally strong storytelling skills, then you are sorely missing out. To all those who like their fantasy to be dark, gritty, inventive, mind-bending, diverse, emotional, and surprisingly heartfelt, please do yourself a favour and check out The Smokesmiths series now; I promise you won’t regret it. 

Thank you to the author for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. Thorns of War is scheduled for release on May 5, 2024.

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Esmay Rosalyne

Esmay Rosalyne

Esmay Rosalyne is a self-proclaimed professional book devourer from The Netherlands. While (dark) fantasy will always have her heart, she is also a big indie/self-pub enthusiast and will probably read anything if the premise sounds intriguing enough. Or, you know, if it promises complete emotional destruction. When not reading books, she is probably reviewing books, talking about books, or watching videos of fellow bookworms talking about books.