A chosen one sets off on the road, accompanied by a stalwart companion or two, destined to combat a great darkness or evil, due by prophecy or folly to rise again. We know that story. What we don’t know is what happens when that chosen one is slaughtered on his first night out, his companions splintered, his fate taken from him before he can even take a step toward fulfilling it. As Fate of the Fallen opens, we see the charismatic, strong-willed, tempered Matthias fall to a monster on the road. The mage who was to guide him realizes how futile it is to even attempt to fulfill the prophecy now; with the death of Matthias, it seems the fate of the world is fated to fall.
The only one who says no, who refuses this inevitability, is Matthias’s lifelong friend and now, reluctant hero, Aaslo. Taking up the mantle of his friend, Aaslo is determined to spread the word of the fall of the Lightbane, and to do his best to step into his friend’s role, or failing that, at least warn the world of the war against darkness to come. With that Kel Kade’s Fate of the Fallen takes off, wandering and meandering through a world on the brink of war, though what final shape it will take, no one seems to quite know.
There is a great idea at the core of Fate of the Fallen, and that is mostly what sustains this novel. To play so drastically with the rather bloated trope of the chosen one by murdering him in the very first act is a rather confident move, and quickly adds adrenaline to a novel slow to get moving. And that idea, that whatever cataclysm is to come can now not be averted, fuels a lot of the interesting relationships in this book. Aaslo, as a very reluctant hero, does his best to inspire others to rise up, but many in this world do their best to move out of the way of the conflict, despite his best efforts. With the rather hodge-podge assembly he does put together, the world may very well end, but it will go down swinging. The back and forth through the weave of fate, the revisions and edits to an enormous prophecy that happen as Aaslo exerts his stony will, are some of the best parts of this novel.
Likewise, another very strong aspect of the book is Aaslo himself. A Forester, somewhat akin to a hobbit and a dwarf in attitude, at the very least, Aaslo was raised to be polite, distant, and skeptical of pretty much everyone. Falling in with Matthias as a young man, he always found himself in his friend’s shadow, and even after his death, Matthias still looms large in Aaslo’s mind. What Kade gets very right in this book is Aaslo’s constant tug of war with himself; does he let his friend down, and go home? Does he step up, and if he does, how in the world will he make a difference? Struggle after struggle, Kade captures Aaslo’s weariness, his exhaustion, and his determination, even as they explore his struggles to rise to the immense challenge of saving the world, and knowing he’s not the one that should be doing it. Aaslo’s personal journey is a delightful read, as he gets stronger and better at this hero business over the course of the novel, even if he doesn’t like it.
Unfortunately, many parts of Fate of the Fallen fail to hold up to the excitement of the core premise. Without really knowing who the chosen one is, we don’t have any investment in his loss. Without really understanding what the prophecy and this supposed world-destroying calamity is, we don’t feel the consequences of his demise. As Aaslo begins his quest, we get drips and drabs of information, but so much is thrown at the reader at once regarding worldbuilding, cosmology, godhood, mages, side characters, and more, that there’s no chance for any of the stakes to sink in before we’re whisked away. While I believe being vague about stakes is being done on purpose, it holds the reader back from any investment in the story or the characters.
Granted, Aaslo and his crew are as clueless as us, but this is not a good example of the audience knowing exactly what the characters know. Without clear stakes, either on a character or a worldbuilding level, then all the reader is doing is watching characters go from place to place being as confused as they are. It’s a shame, because Kade obviously did a lot of work constructing this world and these characters, and the love they have for them on the page is palpable. I only wish we had gotten a chance to fall in love with them, too, before being thrown in the deep end without a paddle.
Ultimately, if you’re a fan of epic fantasy narratives that live in a very classic space, while exploring ideas of destiny, prophecy, and choice, then you’re going to enjoy Fate of the Fallen. There are some great ideas explored here, a world rich in character and lore, and some very nice scenes played out on the road to this prophecy’s end. Be prepared to feel a little lost at times, but know there is a hero out there, doing his best to prevent destruction, even if he was only supposed to be the sidekick.
Martin Cahill is a contributor to Tor.com, as well as Book Riot and Strange Horizons. He has fiction forthcoming at Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Fireside Fiction. You can follow his musings on Twitter @McflyCahill90.