TEMPLE OF NO GOD by H.M. Long.
Titan Books. p/b. £8.99.
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.
Hessa, Breaker of Curses, High Priestess of Thvynder, still serves her fallen goddess, Eang. In the name of the Goddess of War, the Eangen bring revenge to the Arpa Empire, yet amid the burning village and terrified, fleeing villagers stands one who is not afraid of her. Magic clings to him. Then she realises: not one stranger confronts her, but two.
Five months later, as she returns from her daily pilgrimage to the frozen lake, Hessa realises something is different. Travellers await her in the hall in Albor, built on the site of the Hall of Smoke of her childhood. A messenger comes bearing news of a would-be emperor. This one wants not to destroy Hessa and her people but to make an ally of the priestess and offers a great prize in return.
Hessa will accompany the messenger to meet this man who would declare himself Emperor and, on the way, will make the choice that only she can – help him to his empire or stop him in his tracks.
Temple of No God follows Hessa’s journey as the future of the empire rests on her decision, but the narrative is just as heavily weighted to the strained relationship with her husband and the burdens he carries. Both on their second marriage, with much tragedy and distress in their past, it is a tale of two people learning to acknowledge the rift between them and take small steps to cross it.
Events of this book are set some considerable years after Hall of Smoke, and Temple of No God is not a sequel, as such, although we do still have Hessa front and centre, and all the empathy and strength she embodied once before still shines strongly on the page, though she is older and feeling more worn. The lesser characters are well portrayed, particularly young Upsa, who this reader suspects, may have a large part to play in any future stories set in this world.
The overall tone of Temple of No God is softer than the first book, and the pace more languidly flowing as relationships are explored and developed. There is action, tension, fight and threat but somehow taking a back seat to Hessa’s internal musings and strife. This is a protagonist who has suffered more than the reader is really aware of, and Long brings us an emotional journey before any other.