The Book of Azrael – Amber Nicole

Welcome to book 1 in the Gods & Monsters series! Epic dark fantasy time. I’m in! Welcome to Onuna.

So, we have Dianna. A thousand years ago, she called out to anyone who would listen, to save her dying sister. When the monster, Kaden, answered, Dianna gave up her life to serve him. But she is hunted. And her current task is to steal an ancient relic from her hunters. Spoiler: the relic is the Book of Azrael!

Meanwhile, once Samkiel, now Liam, always the World Ender, has been hidden from this realm for eons. He ignored his crown until he became at most a myth, at best forgotten. But ancient enemies stir and he must return. Somehow, these opposite sides must come together to defend all of the realms.

Dianna is ‘Ig’Morruthen’. Supposedly these were all killed in the ancient Gods War (after which Liam locked himself away), so she’s quite the surprise to everyone who believe no new ones can be created because the ones that could do so are all dead or locked away forever in another universe entirely. Dianna herself is something of a rarer one as well, being previously mortal. She has an interesting trick of being able to taste someone’s blood and sink into their memories. This is called a ‘blooddream’. She can also make fire, and shapeshift – making flying a thing – and teleport.

Kaden owns her, because he dangles the life of her sister, and being able to visit her hangs on Kaden’s generosity (spoiler: he doesn’t have any). She wants out. But there is no way out. Not unless…things change.

Enter Alistair, also an Ig’Morruthen. Seems to be quite the sadist, as well as a scary-ass warrior. He has a black mist that can rip apart the brain of a celestial and put it back together again (after getting any useful info they have) in the same configuration, but with an added bit of malware: they are now his eyes and ears in the world, and he can even take control of them directly (giving me memories of Harbinger from Mass Effect 2)

Also, apparently some Ig’Morruthen like to eat humans. So that’s a fun thing. They seem to be little more than ferals. Dianna seems to be the only one Kaden has successfully turned into an Ig’Morruthen and retained her actual sentience in, well, at least a millennia because she was the last success.

This is great, then. Whave vampires and werewolves and banshees and politcians and shadowy creatures. It’s a great big grab bag of the supernatural, and Kaden rules over them all.

Philosophically, ethically, it’s an interesting question. Does the life of the one person you love, balance against all the others you kill? What tips that balance?

Also I have serious questions about timelines. Dianna has been doing Kaden’s bidding for centuries, but her sister – a standard model human – is still alive? There’s some vagueness about her being mostly human just living a longer life, also she may have some sort of empathy power–that’s thrown in a couple of times but never explored.

Dianna feels a lot like a Mary Sue…she’s got all the powers and all the skills and she always wins and is the best at everything and is feared by everyone. She’s the perfect one. There’s even some super secret mystery about how extra mega powerful she really is. And as she’s our narrator, I’m calling her unreliable – but in a meta kind of way: the author is unreliable as her narrator. 

But! That doesn’t make the book even a smidge less enjoyable. It was a lot of fun to read. Lots going on but not too much. A lot of interplay between characters, which I always enjoy.

With Dianna as one narrator, we get to follow her through the pain, the torment, the sadness, and the mysteries the other non-feral Ig’Morruthen–Tobias (a total ass) and Alistair (slightly less of an ass)–are in on. Her lack of knowledge disturbs her. She knows there is danger but cannot tell where, or what, and she is forced blind into situations where she doesn’t have the details. She must obey, that is all.

For her sister she will do anything. And so, she does as she is bid, as everything threatens to come crashing down.

When Liam gets his turn narrating, we get into deep wells of self-pity and regret and refusal to deal with his ginormous issues. He basically retreated in a tantrum, and never emerged. So when he returns, it’s in a mega snit. And he’s shocked that in the hundreds of years he’s been away mortals have lost their respect for him, and that the guy he left to rue isn’t totally super 100% jumping for joy at his return. Liam quickly messes up the relations carefully built over the centuries he has been away sulking by, well, sulking, tantruming and being in a snit.

The guy has serious untreated PTSD as well as a literal God complex. It’s a heck of a combination. So much angst.

I found that Nicole can’t quite decide whether to describe a person or a location in full, or simply not bother. There’s a lot of haziness to a lot of people and places, then suddenly she’ll describe something in minute detail. It’s a bit jarring!

The book has the right size to be an epic fantasy, and it has the cast of characters for it, too. It’s also a nice departure from the main character being a traditional ‘good’ hero, or even really an antihero. The things she does, despite her mortal heart, are often horrific. But she does them so Gabby can live, and that excuses these acts – at least, she tells herself it does.

The story walks a thin line, trying to balance action and consequence, exploring the limits of morality. It’s not exactly an unpredictable tale, but it is an enjoyable one. However, I have 3 main issues.

My biggest gripe was the outpouring of toxic masculinity that happened every time something masculine appeared near Dianna (and often when she’s nowhere around but the dudes are posturing about her anyway). Blech. Unhealthy masculine role models. No thank you.

My second biggest is the lack of coherent rules to the magic. I can’t figure out how or what or why or when or anything actually controls it. Plus the characters seem to forget what they can do. Teleportation! Flying! Shapeshifting! But it’s plot convenient if they don’t do that right now so just pretend they can’t, and watch them flail around instead. This might not bother others, though, I just love to delve in and see how things work, but I can’t do that here because it’s always shifting based on what Nicole wants/needs. It means lots of deus ex machina, though, which is always amusing.

Third is the wavering ideas of how the entire system works. What a Celestial is and how they were made? Still have no idea, and coincidentally only a God can do that, and there are no more Gods. But also Liam is called a God? And the history is so confused! It just feels slapdash, as if Nicole found her own plot inconvenient and just wanted it put of the way (so there could be more male posturing).

It’s a shame, and these make application of the word ‘epic’ a little bit of a stretch. It’s a YA romance disguised as an adult epic fantasy. If the author had faith in her story and characters, she could have created a much more powerful tale. Hopefully she’ll boost up the learning curve for the next book, which I am looking forward to!

If you like your fantasy epic and troubling, your setting not of this earth, and your magic without any rules whatsoever, this is for you!
Buy The Book of Azrael at Amazon US or UK, or order from your favourite bookstore or library.

Buy me a coffee?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.