Reviewed by R A Bardy (@mangozoid)
Set in a far distant future, ‘The Songs of Phera Main’ serves as a subtle allegory about mankind’s past and future environment, told through the eyes of two remarkably dissimilar inhabitants.
The Songs of the title refer to the legendary tales told of Phera herself, a battle-hardened Lord General of the Army who is actually getting a tad fed up with these tedious and dull celebrations of the multiple (and ubiquitous) acts of violence she commits. Unbeknownst to her, Phera is about to lose her last skirmish – and the use of her arms – but this serves only to trigger the start of what’s set to become her greatest battle ever, with the fate of mankind itself at stake.
The other main protagonist is Helannon, a member of the ruling Brotherhood who is given what seems a relatively easy assignment: to investigate the disappearance (and suspected murder) of a young woman who has gone missing from a small, isolated village. As decreed by the Sacred Father, he is accompanied by Jelp, a Kjanjo acolyte: physically repulsive and goblin-like, these are creatures resented by all and sundry, but nonetheless they have their own integral part to play in the eventual fate of this world.
It soon becomes abundantly clear that Helannon is actually a very minor bit-player in this cleverly written tale, one of many characters who are all mere bit-players thrust upon a much larger stage. There are twists and turns aplenty, and although we are ostensibly in a fantasy landscape for the majority, it soon becomes readily apparent that mankind’s worst enemy is itself. Okay, this may not be ground-breaking news for many, but the author tackles it with genuine aplomb, and this story stands tall because of it…
Effectively combining multiple story strands into one seamless whole, the author follows each short, sharp chapter with an accompanying single-page interlude usually containing a quote, missive, definition, diary entry, monologue, etc. This helps speed the story along, and herein lies a lot of its strength: it’s smart, efficiently told, and moves along at a cracking pace.
I believe ‘The Songs of Phera Main’ is Simon Yates’ first published novel, and I would like to applaud his efforts: there is plenty to like here, and I’d thoroughly recommend it as a tidy read.