Book Review

Mordew by Alex Pheby

GOD IS DEAD, his corpse hidden in the catacombs beneath Mordew.

In the slums of the sea-battered city a young boy called Nathan Treeves lives with his parents, eking out a meagre existence by picking treasures from the Living Mud and the half-formed, short-lived creatures it spawns. Until one day his desperate mother sells him to the mysterious Master of Mordew.

The Master derives his magical power from feeding on the corpse of God. But Nathan, despite his fear and lowly station, has his own strength and it is greater than the Master has ever known. Great enough to destroy everything the Master has built. If only Nathan can discover how to use it.

So it is that the Master begins to scheme against him, and Nathan has to fight his way through the betrayals, secrets, and vendettas of the city where God was murdered, and darkness reigns…

I love a good fantasy novel and was intrigued by Mordew as soon as I became aware of it. It more than lived up to my expectations, and I can’t wait for the second instalment in the trilogy – I desperately need to know what happens next!

The world building in Mordew is excellent. It’s complex and richly detailed, and Pheby has created a unique world that is bleak and unforgiving without straying into grimdark territory.  Like many such novels, there is a class system at play, and I like the way in which the city is structured vertically to reflect this – the slums are at the bottom, the Master is at the top, and the merchants and middle class are in the, well, middle.  It’s a neat structure, and I like the implication that the uphill battle to improve one’s station in life is literal as well as figurative.  From the beginning, it’s clear that Mordew is a world with very little hope – particularly for those living hand to mouth in the slums – despite the Master’s claims to be benevolent and working for the good of all. 

The main protagonist is thirteen-year-old Nathan Treeves, a slum dweller with a secret.  I had mixed views about Nathan initially.  At thirteen, he’s at a difficult age to be the main character in an adult novel, and while there is a coming of age element to the narrative, this is most definitely more adult than YA.  At the outset, he comes across as being indecisive, naïve, and far too trusting.  He’s happy to go along with the plans of others, most of whom seem to be using Nathan to their own advantage – something that he doesn’t quite get.  I began to like him more as the novel progressed, however, as Nathan is forced out of his comfort zone, which allows for some development of his character.

Mordew is a fantastically original tale, and one that provides some unique twists on the classic trope of “young boy of mysterious parentage proves to be uber important”.  All of the elements of this narrative arc are present in the novel, and yet each is delivered in such a way that Mordew feels incredibly new and fresh.  The idea of “the mentor” is also given a refresh in this novel, with the Master not taking on the role that one might expect.  There are some fantastic ideas in the novel, and I love that classic tropes and character types are explored in new and interesting ways.  

Mordew is a relatively hefty tome with some 600 plus pages, although the last 80 or so of these are part of a glossary that should be saved until the end – no cheating now.  While some novels of this length can drag, I didn’t find that to be the case with Mordew.  There’s so much going on and a lot of ideas to pick up and understand, and while some of these elements only become apparent as the novel progressed, I found myself hooked right from the beginning.  Throughout, I wanted to know MORE.  The reader knows little more than Nathan does, and there were some unexpected – by me, at least – developments as the novel progressed.  And it builds to a superb ending – as much as the first instalment can be considered an end, that is. 

Mordew was published by Galley Beggar Press in August 2020.  I highly recommend it.


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