Justin Sloan’s Land of Gods is a fantasy story that combines many of the elements I liked best from the movie 300 with the first half of Full Metal Jacket. It is part ancient Greek adventure, part military basic training story, and part love triangle.
“This is a work of fiction. No people known to the author have become gods or believe themselves to have done so.” – Author’s disclaimer at the front of Land of Gods.
The author tells the story of Narcel, a young Ikarin man who is abducted in front of the woman he loves. He is taken to the homeland of the Mawtu and forced to train to become a warrior in their army. Meanwhile, the heartbroken girl, Kaire finds some solace in the arms of Lokum, Narcel’s devious cousin. Kaire’s inability to forget her love for the missing Narcel fuels Lokum’s growing resentment. His unrest is inflamed further when he discovers his parents are members of a cannibalistic cult. As the darker side of Lokum emerges, his actions serve as the catalyst that ensures war between the Mawtu and Ikarin.
“Who the hell let a fat-body like you into my class?” -Asiter, Mawtu trainer
Justin Sloan does an excellent job using his experience as a United States Marine to describe the training Narcel goes through at the hands of his Mawtu abductors. This is obvious to anyone who has served in the military. The loneliness and hopelessness Narcel feels has been felt by everyone who has ever attended basic training or boot camp. He befriends two other boys, who both later make great sacrifices for their friendship. Initially, all of the conscripts fear and hate their Mawtu trainers. However, as time passes Narcel grows to respect them and eventually somewhat care for them.
One of the underlying themes in Land of Gods is the bond between brother in arms. Narcel experiences this not just with the other conscripts, but also with his Mawtu trainers. As they ride to war against his homeland, Narcel is torn between his loyalty to the blood thirstyMawtu and his revulsion of their actions.
“You have friends like me that are like this lake here, always calm and relaxed, always there for you. Then you have our Mawtu trainers. Like the rivers, they are always raging. And the ocean, well, I can’t think of something as perfect at times and insane at others, except for women.” -Semreh to Narcel
And as if being abducted and conscripted into an army set on destroying your homeland was not enough for young Narcel to deal with, the woman he loves hooks up with his cousin when he disappears. Indeed I can not understand why he pines for her in the first place. From the beginning Kaire plays two sides, leading both Narcel and Lokum on. I had to remind myself that Narcel is young, and for young people, logic and rationale often don’t play a role in matters of the heart. The silver lining for the reader is that this inevitably leads to a confrontation between Narcel and Lokum.
“The next time we meet, we are not cousins. On that day, you die.” -Narcel to Lokum
I rate Land of Gods five stars. It was easily the most captivating book I have read this year. Listening to one of the podcasts that Sloan hosts, he mentioned that Land of Gods was one of the first books he wrote. I did not find this to be a detriment. The writing was easy to read, well paced, and descriptive enough without being entangling. I was quickly sucked in by the story and look forward to reading the next book in the series.