Today is my stop on the Storytellers on Tour blog tour for A Ritual of Flesh by Lee C. Conley. Please be sure to check out the posts from the rest of the awesome bloggers and bookstagrammers on the tour by clicking on the banner below. Thank you once again to Justine and Timy for having me along on this tour. There is an International giveaway later in this post – so stay tuned for that!
A Ritual of Flesh by Lee C Conley
Series: The Dead Sagas (#2)
Published: October 10, 2020
Genre: Fantasy Horror
CW: Strong horror themes, Gruesome gory scenes, Child/infant death (mostly implied and not described in detail), Cannibalism and eating of people, Zombies, Desecration of the dead, Some swearing, Emotional scenes
As evil ravages the north and the dead walk, all eyes fall to Arn… The apprentice journeys south, home to the College, unaware of the dark events that transpired in the High Passes after his departure. His leg in ruins, and haunted by watching shadows, the College council in Arn awaits him, but he does not travel south alone.
Arnulf and his warriors must travel to Arn also, with tidings for the king of the risen dead and the terrible curse which has destroyed all that he knew. Arnulf seeks vengeance upon the College, but must choose wisely if he is to save his son.
Meanwhile in the west, Bjorn and his strange Wildman companion report back to High Lord Archeon at Oldstones with grim news of cannibal Stonemen encroaching from the Barrens, but is embroiled in news of war and invasion as Archeon requests his service once more.
In the capital sickness awaits them all, Nym has fled to the city and must now continue her struggle for survival on the plague ridden streets of Arn, keeping all who she cares for safe from the halls of Old Night.
The many threads of this Saga converge on the city of Arn, but amid plague, invasion and terror, a greater darkness is looming. Dark forces are seeking to unleash evil upon Arnar, honour and renown is all, and sword, axe and shield is all that stands between the living and the grasping hands of the dead.
I was sent an audiobook copy by the author and an ebook by Storytellers on Tour in return for an honest review. So I was able to try a spot of ‘immersive reading’ – listening to the audio at the same time as following on the ebook. Thank you to Lee C. Conley and Justine and Timy.
The audiobook is once again narrated by RJ Bayley who I really enjoyed listening to in the previous book A Ritual of Bone and the same comments I made about its narration stand true for the sequel:
“R.J. Bayley has an excellent, dramatic voice which conveys tension brilliantly. I really appreciated all of the different voices he gave the characters. Truda, Nym and other females were just high pitched and feminine enough to be believable and my favourite was the rich throaty accent given to Bjorn the hunter/tracker. I prefer fantasy narration to be with a British accent – I tend to get more distracted when the narrator has an American accent. So R.J. Bayley was perfect for this.”
The voices of the characters inside the tavern in A Ritual of Flesh were hilarious – particularly Toothless Maud – and the narration leant a definite spooky, eerie feeling to the sequences with the Apprentice and the mysterious hooded figure who whispers eerily in the Apprentice’s head. RJ Bayley is a very talented narrator and voice actor who I will look out for on other audiobooks.
A sample of the audio for A Ritual of Flesh can be found here on the Amazon page.
Listening time: 20 hrs 4 minutes
A Ritual of Flesh was the perfect book to read/listen to in October to get me in a Halloween-ready mood. The atmospheric feel of this dark fantasy is decidedly spooky and the tension rises as the country becomes increasingly overrun by the deadly plague as well as the risen dead. The dreadful action picks up pretty soon after the end of A Ritual of Bone and the author has included a useful ‘Story so far’ section at the beginning of the book which I greatly appreciated. It’s been a couple of months since I read Book 1 of the Dead Sagas so this really helped jog my memory. The book is set in an ancient Norse inspired world with longboats, and authentic feeling villages and culture which the author must have researched thoroughly to make it so horrifyingly immersive.
I am not usually a big fan of horror books but I do enjoy Norse fantasies and zombies despite that, and A Ritual of Flesh delivers those in blood chilling spades, starting as early as Chapter 1:
Galen’s eyes widened as he realised the man was no looter. The body at his feet lay torn open, its innards spilled into the mud. The man kept chewing.
He is eating the dead.
The twisted mystery of the Apprentice continues from A Ritual of Bone. He is being haunted by a hooded figure who whispers menacingly in his head and appears to be able to control what he says in order to keep secrets he does not want the Apprentice to reveal to the College council. This story arc is both fascinating and spooky (that hissing voice!! It makes the Apprentice question his sanity) it was my favourite arc of the book. The Council members at the college are typically bureaucratic and self-serving, disbelieving the Apprentice’s story of dark experiments and terrifying reanimation. They are full of distrust of anything they do not understand or that cannot be proven to them and are frustrating in their lack of flexibility when it comes to his apprenticeship, many of them wanting to deny him the title of Master now that Eldrick is dead. Luckily Master Luthor is not so inflexible and takes him on as his own apprentice. We see a large change in the Apprentice from the unconfident helper we saw in A Ritual of Bone to a much more maniacally self-assured Master with his own devious plans by the end of A Ritual of Flesh.
Nym has now moved to the city and is struggling to control her wayward younger brother who has taken to thievery. Her part in the story helps illustrate the lives of normal townsfolk amid this horrifying situation and the rising panic around the plague:
There was a body every few strides now, laying in the gutter, the twisted dead frozen in their final agonised throes. Stiffened, bloody death masks, nightmare faces choked with dark blood and flies. Many houses had been daubed in red paint, a sign that all inside had fallen victim to the blood plague.
Conley is a master at describing the world of Arnar in great detail, using sights, sounds and smells to evoke the scene, helping the reader to easily immerse themself in the locations and situations he describes so cleverly:
The hunter looked out into the valley below. His hair dripped in the rain and the faint smell of decomposing wood and damp permeated the air. He imagined, now the rains had come, the winding valleys, gullies and gulches would quickly become a tangle of stinking mire and choking branches.
Through the multiple points of view we get to see how widespread the plague has become and how daily life is being affected. There are so many bodies piling up they are now being tossed carelessly into the river which is affecting the drinking water supply. The pyres are causing a thick smog to hang over the city. Everyone is distrustful and fearful of walking through the city in case they catch the plague. People are even starting to wear plague masks, their long beak-like noses filled with nice smelling herbs to fight off the ever-present stench of death.
In addition to the plague we have the continued conundrum of the cannibalistic Stone Men of legend and Bjorn the Hunter is still accompanied by Tung, a Stone Man who is not a savage like the others. I was intrigued by this story arc and since it wasn’t really concluded I can’t wait to see where it will lead in the next book. What with plague, cannibalism and the dead walking, Arnar is not a healthy place to find oneself and the various different POV groups all eventually converge on the citadel, hoping it’s fortifications will be their salvation.
I really enjoyed being spooked out by the horror elements of A Ritual of Flesh and will be on the lookout for the next installment in this story, A Ritual of Blood, which I understand the author is currently working on. I can only imagine where his imagination will take us next – but I’m sure it will be a thrilling, horrifying ride!
*** International Giveaway ***
Prize: A Ritual of Flesh by Lee C Conley – International
Grand Prize: A signed hardcover
Runners-up: Choice of audiobook or ebook
Starts: October 10th, 2021 at 12:00am EST
Ends: October 17th, 2021 at 11:59pm EST
Click here or on the banner below to enter.
About the Author
Lee is a musician and writer in Lincolnshire, UK. He lives with his wife Laura and daughters Luna and Anya in the historic cathedral city of Lincoln. Alongside a lifetime of playing guitar and immersing himself in the study of music and history, Lee is also a practitioner and instructor of historic martial arts and swordsmanship. After writing his advanced guitar theory textbook The Guitar Teachers Grimoire, Lee turns his hand to writing fiction. Lee is one of the founders of Bard of the Isles literary magazine and is now also studying a degree in creative writing while working on his debut fantasy series The Dead Sagas, which includes the novels A Ritual of Bone and A Ritual of Flesh, as well as also generally writing speculative fiction and horror.
About the Narrator
I’m RJ Bayley, audiobook narrator and voice actor. I’ve been using my voiceover and production skills to earn audiences and profits for internationally known brands like BBC, Nick Jr, Johnson & Johnson, TalkSport and Smooth Radio. I’ve also been helping authors realise their dreams for their books with my professional audiobook narration and production services.