Friday Review: The Killing Fog (Grave Kingdom #1) by Jeff Wheeler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In this first in a series fantasy novel, Wheeler uses an Asian-inspired setting and characters to tell a story of revenge, faith, and honor. The main character, Bingmei, is a young girl who has uncharacteristic white hair, a sign that is considered a disease, and instills fear in most people. When the story begins, Bingmei is living with her family in an outpost compound. When bandits overrun the compound and kill her family, Bingmei not only manages to escape, but pledges her life to exacting revenge on the killers. To that end, she enlists with a band of trained warriors-for-hire. The band is commissioned by a noble to find a mythical city of vast fortune and magic after an artifact that seems to be part of the city is found. The group finds the city, but in doing so, they unleash a malevolent force on the world. And that force seems to have a special interest in Bingmei.

This was a pretty decent first book in a series. There is a lot of set-up, as is usual in a first installment, but I never found it to be too tedious. The worldbuilding is good, with enough detail to make the world live. Some characters could be better developed, with a few defined by one or two traits and not much else. The bad guys are bad, and that’s about all. There is the often-used fantasy trope of entombed evil and prophetic destiny. The magic use is kind of secondary, with martial arts skills the main focus of the battles. And the killing fog of the title- a mist that comes with death and if it touches those still living, kills them- is an interesting factor that weaves throughout the story. Bingmei herself is a bit underdeveloped for a main character, but with the cliffhanger ending, there is plenty of room for expanding her character in later books. Still, she’s not an uninteresting character, and does show some growth from the revenge-focused youngster at the beginning to a person beginning to see the world as more complex and bigger than her anger and hurt.

There is that cliffhanger ending, though. I can’t say I don’t like a book that doesn’t have a fully satisfying ending, and in a series, there does need to be some carryover in plot and storylines, but I do tend to prefer installments that have at least some form of ending to parts of the tale. I can’t say it completely spoiled the book for me, because it didn’t. It just would have been nice to have some finality to a few pieces in this one.

All in all, not a bad book by any means. People who enjoy fantasy, some magic, and a good helping of martial arts would probably enjoy this first installment in the series. Just be aware that the ending is a lead-in for the second book.

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