At the heart of every legend lies a truth.
Twisted and reshaped by the currents of time.
For twenty years, strategos Dexios has led the phalanx of Thena against its enemies, pulled from one battleground to another in a relentless cycle of war and bloodshed. Now, finally, he has found the courage to leave that life behind. To relinquish his officer’s sword and return to the verdant slopes of his vineyard with his wife and son.
Peace, however, is fragile and capricious. When Thena’s northern allies bring word of an enormous tauran horde gathering on their borders, Dexios has no choice but to answer the call to arms one last time.
As humans and tauros collide, another evil wakes. Whispered rumours of a clawed creature that stalks the shadowy streets. Of violent murders committed in the name of deities long thought vanquished. To speak their names is heresy.
They are the Exiled. The Banished.
Panacea is the first book in the new epic fantasy series The Ruined Gods, by Alex Robins. I have to admit that I was firstly attracted by the cover and the premise, especially because I'm a Greek myths lover, and that after finishing this novel, I'm hooked for the rest of the trilogy, because it's a blend of two elements I love: heavy historical inspiration in a secondary world and twisted mythology which lies behind the surface to end making a big entrance.
Dexios has been leading Thena's phalanx for twenty years, and he is about to almost end his service as the strategos, when it is called for a last service. A big pack of tauros, the biggest seen to date, is near a mountain pass, and an envoy from Ruxia has reached Thena asking for help. A last service for the polis it is; but this one is going to be difficult, as his own son is among the ephebes that had joined the phalanx in this mission. Keres wants to earn the glory he has seen in his father, and get a legacy; being even more difficult due to the own problems that have appeared among the ephebes, as he's not the only one whose only purpose is to make their parents feel proud.
And after here, is where the real story happens, when Alex decides that it is time to break the molds, and use them as the base for a real epic story; a broken character, Dexios, who starts a desperate journey, which will put in danger Thena and himself, and that might awaken forces he can't comprehend. At the same time, a second arc is opened while we are following Helena, one of Thena's sophistes, who is investigating the mysterious death of five guards, and the marks that appeared on their corpses, hints that might drive her to the Ruined Gods.
Dexios' evolution is really well written. He starts being the prestigious strategos in a last mission, suffers the consequences of treason, starts a path that will lead him to take questionable decisions, and enters in contact with certainly quirky characters, such as Piraeus, the last Ruined God priest; his main priority changes due to the lose he suffers.
Helena trying to uncover who killed those who assaulted her, and her secondary arc taking the lead on the defense of Thena is also an excellent evolution of a character, preparing her for what I expect will be a more prominent role in book 2. In general, secondary characters are well portrayed, getting small roles in the whole story, but having their own moments when they take the spotlight.
The world of Panacea is heavily inspired by Ancient Greece, and it was one of the aspects that first caught my attention. While traveling alongside the characters, we can also appreciate how the author has made extensive research to be close to the historical sources, and has tried to be as accurate as possible, making the base for his secondary world excellent. At the same time, it has been mashed up with Greek mythology, making the creatures from these myths an integral part of the world, with powerful Gods that will intervene in the story. The classic Olympic pantheon has been twisted, with Hera taking the place of power, so we will be able to observe these kinds of details in the religious rites.
The plot is engaging but is slightly too slow at the start, or to be fair, I would say that it feels too mundane, especially when it is compared with the second part of the book. And don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the phalanx's arc, but I think Dexios' journey is the definition of an epic one, which hits you in the feels. I can say that I didn't expect the end of this book, and it surprised me, but at the same time, only left me with desire of getting the second book as soon as possible.
In summary, Panacea is a great opening for an epic series, perfect for those who love Greek mythology, and want to see more mythical creatures in their stories. The second book in The Ruined Gods trilogy can't come fast enough.
Alex Robins was born in Norwich, England back when it was still trendy to wear lycra tracksuits and bright pink headbands. Norwich School Library was where he first discovered his love of reading, an old converted undercroft packed to the rafters with books. The first fantasy series he read was The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis & Tracey Hickman, quickly followed by The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and David Eddings' The Belgariad.
At the age of twelve Alex moved across the channel to Nantes in France. Speaking very little French, the first few years were difficult and sometimes lonely as he scrambled to get a grip on the intricate grammar and vocabulary of the French language. His taste in books branched out from epic fantasy to science-fiction, mysteries, thrillers, and historical fiction, but he always came back to his favourite fantasy authors when looking to escape the outside world.
After degrees in agronomy, project management, and computer sciences, Alex founded his own company dedicated to online voting. He met his wife during a game of badminton and they spent several years getting trounced in various regional tournaments before getting married. Alex now lives in the sunny Loire Valley in western France, surrounded by imposing castles, sprawling vineyards, and two children. After reading fantasy books for the last thirty years he decided to write one. The Broken Heart of Arelium is his first novel, and the first in the War of the Twelve series.