Book Review: Malarkoi, by Alex Pheby

This week, I’m reviewing one of my most hotly anticipated books of the year, the sequel to 2020’s Mordew by Alex Pheby. Yes, it’s finally time to return to the Cities of the Weft trilogy, as Malarkoi is out now! Can it be as good as Mordew though? Read on to find out, and beware spoilers for the first book from the outset.

This fair and unbiased review was conducted based on an uncorrected proof of the book which was sent to me by the publisher, Galley Beggar Press.

From the blurb:

Nathan Treeves is dead, murdered by the Master of Mordew, his remains used to create the powerful occult weapon known as the Tinderbox.

His companions, scattered, are making for Malarkoi – the city of the Mistress, the Master’s most powerful enemy. Hoping to find welcome there, or at least safety, they find neither… and instead become embroiled in a life and death struggle against assassins, demi-gods, and the cunning plans of the Mistress.

Only Sirius, Nathan’s faithful dog, has not forgotten the boy. Bent on revenge, he returns to the shattered remains of Mordew, newly deformed into an impossible mountain, swarming with monsters. He senses something in the Manse at its pinnacle – the Master is there, grieving the loss of his manservant, Bellows – and in the ruins of the slums he finds a power capable of destroying his foe, if only he has the strength to use it.

Kicking off in a similar fashion to Mordew, we once again have a dramatis personae and a list of unusual things which we will encounter in the novel, but additionally we’re given an extremely helpful recap of the previous volume’s events. Rejoice! After that and a brief prologue, we’re straight into Pheby’s world, and this time round things are even more epic and wondrous than before.

Malarkoi is a very different place to Mordew. Made up of multiple realms all nested inside a giant pyramid, it provides both the perfect excuse for Pheby to really let his imagination run riot and a solid framework for this part of the plot. Each realm is totally distinct in a number of ways, whether it’s down to the creatures that occupy them, their religious beliefs, the landscape, or all of the above (and more besides). Every one of them is also stunningly realised, as beautifully described as any location in Mordew and full of danger and wonder. Many involve something which must somehow be overcome in order for our heroes to progress to the next realm too, with the stakes being raised constantly. The feeling of there being some goal that’s being worked towards imparts a great deal of impetus to this plotline in particular.

That’s not to say, however, that there’s a lack of impetus elsewhere. The Master is dealing with his grief by attempting to replace the object of it – his manservant Bellows – with a new version, whilst Sirius (one of the pair of magical dogs, sworn to protect Nathan) attempts to exact his revenge on him. Meanwhile, Nathan’s mother Clarissa – with Anaximander, the newly transformed Bellows and his unfortunate brother in the form of a magic book in tow – goes about her own plans. Both Clarissa and the Mistress helpfully shed a little light on exactly how they’re able to manipulate the weft too – fair warning, it gets very dark – and there are hints as to the people they and the Master used to be. There are also references to the ever approaching Eighth Atheistic Crusade, with plenty of setup for the concluding part of the trilogy (which, after this, can’t come soon enough).

Elsewhere, further context is given to the events of Mordew, with additional details fleshing out more of the world and the characters and reminding us of the motivations of various parties. All in all it feels very welcoming to readers who might struggle to keep all of the details and key plot points of a rather complex story straight; it’s as if this is a reinforced and clarified vision of what came before, whilst simultaneously adding in a veritable treasure trove of imaginative locations, characters and situations to ensure it’s just as fresh and exciting as its predecessor.

Put simply, if you liked Mordew, you will love Malarkoi. It takes everything that was great about Mordew and adds to it, as if that first instalment was the groundwork for something even grander and stranger to be built on top of. The imagination is unbridled, the world building is deeper than ever, the prose is just as sparkling as it was previously and the action is notched up considerably. It’s not just that it’s everything I wanted from a sequel; it’s that it somehow feels like more than I deserve. An absolute triumph.

Malarkoi is out now, published by Galley Beggar Press.

Currently reading: City of Last Chances, Adrian Tchaikovsky
Currently listening: Damage Done, Dark Tranquillity

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