Arnon knows the old stories and songs. He knows how the world is supposed to end. Still, it’s hard to know if his world’s cruelty and hopelessness means the end draws nigh. Maybe this is just another war. Either way, maybe the world deserves to end. In Haelend’s Ballad, Ian Conrey creates a fantasy that borrows from steampunk, staging a war for freedom that does not follow expected courses, in which characters fall short of ideals. Heavy themes dominate the story—suffering, evil, and sin that darkens every human heart. Content is sometimes brutal, but not without purpose. Some readers will may struggle to see in the novel’s darkness or to track its many characters. Nonetheless, Haeland’s Ballad forges a thought-provoking and richly constructed war story.
Best for: Adult fans of dark fantasy with deep Christian themes.
Discern: Graphic violence, from battles to executions; war atrocities, including mutilation of corpses, abuse of prisoners and wounded soldiers, and sadistic experimentation in a Nazi-like prison camp; child abuse as well as rape and prostitution, mostly between the lines.
What say you?