Author: Laura Thalassa
Page Count: 427
Publisher: Lavabrook Publishing, LLC
Notable Notables: Fantasy-ish story featuring the Biblical end times; romance featuring the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Recommended Readers: [Simon Cowell voice] It’s a no from me.
I had hoped that when Laura Thalassa had to change the covers of this series to this godawful thing, it wouldn’t be an indication of the story quality tanking, too. Pestilence was a shockingly, incredibly moving story with an engaging plot; contained a running commentary on human nature; featured a glorious, problematic villain love interest; and yeah, had some actual, well-written sex scenes. Who knew I could actually have it all in this genre, right? But then the cover change happened, War was unveiled looking like this, and I feared it was an ill omen of things to come.
Judging by my rating, you can see I was right, and you’re probably correct in guessing that, unlike the arrival of all my fears and doubts, I didn’t come at all. Instead, I am hugely disappointed by one of my most anticipated reads of the year, and even worse—War broke my five-star rating streak.
Upon finishing War, I am left with two burning questions: 1) Was Pestilence a fluke? 2) If not, then what the hell happened here?
Alright, let’s back up. It’s synopsis time, and oh yeah, expect spoilers throughout.
Separated from her family, unaware if they’re dead or alive, Miriam Elmahdy—and yes, I had to look up that last name because it’s hardly ever stated—is doing what she can to survive. When War, the second Horseman of the Apocalypse, arrives to sack Jerusalem, Miriam knows there’s no surviving this, but she chooses to fight anyway—only to acquire the horseman’s complete attention. Instead of killing her, War calls her his wife and takes her back to his camp. There, she and the other survivors have to comply with War’s systematic pillaging and killing as they move from town to town or be killed themselves for disloyalty. Except Miriam seems exempt from the rules everyone else must follow. War shows Miriam a gentler side that shakes her resolve but doesn’t shatter it, leaving her with a choice: continue to defy War and try and save lives whenever possible, or surrender and watch the rest of humanity fall.
I will say this: I didn’t hate this book out of the gate. The early chapters are strong. You are thrown right in the middle of post-apocalyptic Jerusalem as you read what a day in the life of Miriam is like. She starts off as a compelling protagonist, an inherently good person but one who is willing to kill to protect herself because she’s also a realist and a survivalist. I jived with her immediately and loved when she chose to try and take down War, full well knowing she couldn’t because she was outmatched and that he can’t die—or if he can, he doesn’t stay dead for long.
But then War actually stops showing off his manly prowess with a sword and starts talking, and that’s when I knew that this book probably wouldn’t hold a candle to Pestilence. It all started with one word.
Listen. I’m a big fan of pet names in fiction, the more mocking or degrading the better, actually. But pet names are like garnish; only use them sparingly so they don’t lose their effect. I wish someone had told Thalassa that, because the word “wife” is used 213 times in this book, and every single time War talks to Miriam, that word is tacked on to every other sentence. The blatant over-usage essentially makes the word and any impact it might have had utterly meaningless.
This is just like the “mate” thing with Sarah J. Maas’ books. I literally cannot stand it. It’s lazy, it’s boring, it makes me want to edit your writing as I’m reading, and that’s exactly what I started doing with War as early as 20 percent in. I would just eliminate all mentioning of “wife,” and instantly, War’s dialogue improved, and I could finally see how he could maybe be a little bit attractive.
Because he isn’t. He really isn’t. Unlike Pestilence, War possesses absolutely no magnetism, depth, or intrigue at all. He is essentially the Warlord trope without anything notably unique or compelling attached to him, just a whole lot of muscle and “violent, kohl-lined, violent, kohl-lined, violent eyes.” Oh, and some hair jewelry because sure. We could’ve done so much with that, to be honest, but it is just there with no meaning or purpose behind it so whatever.
Wait, I forgot. He can talk in all kinds of dead languages, which Miriam can miraculously understand with never an explanation as to why. Other than she’s “made for him by God,” I guess. At first, it’s interesting, but like most things in this book, Thalassa makes War do it enough that it quickly becomes annoying. It’s also hilarious what the horseman does with this gift. War will address the entire camp who does not understand him in tongues because he doesn’t want to be understood by humanity or something, and I just… laugh. He literally sits up on a throne, doling out orders or threats in Ancient Egyptian or something, and the entire camp is standing there, rapt with attention, and no one knows jack shit about what he’s saying. This is supposed to be comical, right? Like, there’s no way this is supposed to be taken seriously or make him look impressive or menacing, yeah?
What’s also agonizing is how Thalassa describes War speaking in tongues. She states that he’s speaking a dead language then proceeds to give me entire lines to a paragraph of gibberish, complete with a dialogue tag. It’s like this:
Aksdja ashdak llakdk ashdja, War says with dark promise.
What? Oh, wait, there’s a translation after this that explains what he said. You will always surrender. Oh, okay, that’s cool… Why couldn’t we just have that, so the dialogue tag isn’t literally lost in translation? We learn very quickly that Miriam can understand him, so let’s just indicate he’s speaking in tongues by saying so, and then give me those words:
He opens his mouth, and another strange language comes pouring out, yet still, I can understand. You will always surrender, War says with dark promise.
Boom. Now, was that so hard?
The biggest romance sin has yet to be stated, though, so here it is. There is no organic chemistry between War and Miriam, and a huge reason why is because he claims her as his wife almost instantly upon meeting her. There’s no mystery about where this relationship is going. There is absolutely nowhere for the relationship to smolder, grow, and evolve beyond Miriam’s conflict of “Oh, no, War’s killing everybody! D: But he’s really hot! :D” Indeed, I’m never really shown why War is attractive beyond his physique, but in case I missed it—which I guess I did—Miriam reminds me every chapter or so how breathtakingly gorgeous he is, how sexy he looks with his hair pushed back. That was a Mean Girls reference, but I think it gets across how shallow this attraction is written.
Thalassa couldn’t even have Miriam committing to her resolve to not surrender to War. She does so about 50 percent into the book. Sure, Miriam claims she doesn’t really, that it’s just words and just sex, but c’mon, sweetie. We know better. He’s already been giving you head anyway, so who actually cares?
Yes, unlike with Sara Burns and Pestilence, Miriam and War start doing the hippity-dippity and other fun-filled, bedroom activities early, rendering any kind of sexual tension that might have had a chance to develop null and void. What’s sad is, these scenes are so boring and lacking in passion and are so numerous I could cry. The worst crime, though? Repetitive, repetitive, repetitive. For being such a beast on the battlefield, you would have thought War’s sex drive would reflect that, but no. It’s tender, it’s mind-numbing, it’s the checkbox list of the Basic Bitch’s Guide to Listless Missionary Sex with a bit of oral thrown in to ~spice things up a bit~. Watch out, kinksters. War and Miriam are coming for you, but they’ll be the only ones.
On top of our leads having no real spark or connection outside of their hip bones locking in place, there’s the story itself. Simply put, it’s needlessly long and repetitive. They camp, they pillage, Miriam tries to save people, she mostly fails, she and War have some form of sex, the camp moves. Repeat ad nauseam. During all this time, Miriam pleads or reasons with War to stop killing people, and he says something like, “No. I will never stop, wife,” and off we go again.
A few things happen to break up the monotony, but I’m not sure to what effect they serve upon looking back. For instance, War allows his soldiers to rape women in his own camp until Miriam is almost raped; then suddenly, it’s a big deal and anyone caught doing it will be killed. That’s cool, but unfortunately, Miriam’s sexual assault serves no purpose other than to get her to stay as a permanent resident in War’s tent—so they can have sex whenever, you know?—and the incident is never brought up again with any real weight or relevance.
Miriam also manages to convince War to spare a girl who tries to kill him. This admittedly is a cool moment, a sign that maybe War can change. Miriam gets a friend out of the deal, and believe me, letting her talk to someone other than War is so refreshing because their conversations either bore me to death or are so annoying because you cannot forget Miriam is his wife for even a minute. It also introduces a rather cool line, where Miriam asks War why he finally spares someone, and he replies, “For your soft heart.” It’s a marvelous line…
And Thalassa has to run it into the ground, too. Be prepared to hear it every time Miriam asks why War does something nice for someone else (because lol the idiot doesn’t know, somehow). You will especially hear it the closer to the ending you get, assuming your poor soul makes it that far.
The moment where this book’s rating plummets for me, with no chance of improving, is about 75 percent in. Miriam has decided to kill War with his own sword because nothing else has worked, and she needs to stop him somehow, even if it’s only a temporary solution. Naturally, she can’t follow through with it when it counts. War catches her and proceeds to punish her by making her watch as he raises the dead and kills the majority of their camp. Miriam is So Angery at him, she moves out of his tent, and then proceeds to be sad and hurt because he doesn’t come see her, doesn’t try to get her to come back, or acknowledges her at all. A perfectly logical state of mind to have after the dude you’re sleeping with kills people specifically to punish you, but what do I know?
She also proceeds to have ~mysterious morning sickness~ but she has no idea what it is, despite being a woman born and raised in the 21st century, despite the various occasions of unprotected sex she’s had, and despite the fact that she brought up this very concern early on in the book!! But, no, pregnancy doesn’t even enter her mind. She’s just sick and depressed because War’s a killer through and through, but she misses him 😦 . (And somehow, despite how much raping was going on in the war camp previously, no one else is pregnant, either, so I mean, why would Miriam be, I guess???)
It’s a good thing this book was on my phone; otherwise, I would have thrown the sumbitch. I absolutely hate the “heroine gets surprised pregnant” trope in general, but don’t turn your character into even more of an idiot than you already have, making her take two entire chapters to figure out what’s happening to her. Are you serious?
And of course, wouldn’t you know it? His “wife” being pregnant is just the thing that makes War completely change his ways and decide to stop killing. I feel so sorry for Miriam. Not only is her character butchered throughout the story, but she couldn’t even get through to War based on her own merit; no, it’s the fucking baby that does it. Even though he just killed nearly the entire camp and swore he would never change. Cool. Love this natural progression. Love this pacing. Love this character-building. We really snagged the Pulitzer with this one, I can feel it.
You’d think my torment would end there, but no. No, we have to have a climax scene, and this might have been the worst thing if I wasn’t still mad about the whole pregnancy situation. After War decides to disband camp, he keeps his human soldiers near him. They have been some of the worst killers and thieves, but War thinks that if someone as terrible as he is can be redeemed, then surely these people have a chance, too.
Aw, that’s sweet.
These soldiers then lure War into an ambush where they behead and kill him. Miriam finds this out and decides to go on a killing rampage attempting to find War, engaging in a battle to the death with the one soldier who was ever kind to her. (And yes, they do try to kill each other; it isn’t one-sided, but still.) Miriam’s rampage and War’s earlier retaliation before his death result in all of the soldiers being killed. Meanwhile, cue me sitting on the couch, massaging my temples.
This scene undermines every bit of what Miriam’s been preaching the entire time: that human beings can change for the better, that they can be redeemed if given the chance. Also, that she herself doesn’t want to be a killer. Just don’t mess with her immortal husband, I guess. I truly don’t know what Thalassa was trying to do with this scenario. Was she trying to show how much Miriam and War belong to each other, that they’re willing to sacrifice their ideals in order to protect and be with each other? You know what might have made that work? If it had been shown throughout the entire book naturally instead of forced onto the end.
Was she trying to show that War isn’t actually that bad, that he’s truly the better person, and most of humanity really is just vile and incapable of mercy or compassion? If so, wow. Also, hate to say it, but the soldiers weren’t wrong in what they did. War forced them to kill for him, he barely talked or confided in them, and he certainly didn’t inform them that he was going to let them go with their lives, no strings attached. (Or maybe he did, but it was in tongues, so they didn’t understand him 😂.) But seriously, why wouldn’t they take the chance to finish him off once and for all? War’s been busy convincing Miriam to have good faith in his intentions, but when did he deign to do this for anybody else?
In the end, it’s all to further the Almighty Romance Plot, which is to get War turned into a mortal, so he and Miriam can live happily ever after with their 2.5 kids and a picket fence somewhere. Oh, and with Miriam’s family that they somehow randomly found at the last moment of the book, despite Miriam barely talking about them with War or trying to find them previously at all.
But hey, at least I got to see Death/Thanatos again. His presence and Famine’s introduction alone gives me a slim bit of hope that their books won’t be an absolute travesty like this one was. I truly hope Thalassa takes more time to plot, write, and edit her next book because the gulf in quality between Pestilence and War is vast.
Despite what this scathing review may imply, I want to support her. I do. I think it’s amazing that she does a lot of work through self-publishing, and obviously I loved Pestilence. I also really enjoyed Rhapsodic. I just want to know… what happened.
Why did War read like every half-baked, half-assed Alpha romance book out there? Where was the chemistry; the true, pining emotion; the hot sex; the triumphant human factor? Why wasn’t I hugely attracted to War? (No, seriously, he was supposed to be my book!Megatron, but nothing enticing showed itself at all.) Why did I come to dislike Miriam more and more instead of root for her? That’s not how this is supposed to go.
I’m not even going to touch the Jewish/Muslim and New Palestine thing. Going nowhere near that pile of grenades, unlike a certain someone.
Ultimately, I’m still looking forward to Famine, but it’s going to be with a large amount of trepidation, rather than anticipation. Still some hope, though, so that’s good, and at least the Kindle version is always cheap.