Lord of the White Hell: Book One by Ginn Hale was just released on August 15. Fortunately, there is not a long wait for the conclusion to this fantasy duology – Lord of the White Hell: Book Two is scheduled for publication only a month later on September 15. The first book does end on a bit of a cliffhanger so this is very good indeed, especially since book one is absorbing enough that I added the finished copy to my wish list.
Kiram, a gifted seventeen year old, is the first full-blooded Haldiim accepted into the prestigious Cadeleonian Sagrada Academy due to his work with machinery. It is an honor to be chosen as a hopeful for winning the Crown Challenge, but it is also difficult as Kiram must contend with prejudice and superstition from the beginning of his time at the school. None of the other boys dare sleep in the same room with a heathen Haldiim, which leaves him sharing space with Javier Tornesal, a duke who commands the white hell and is therefore also not a desirable roommate. One of Javier’s ancestors traded his soul and opened the white hell to destroy some invaders, and those of the Tornesal family still keep the pact. While Javier is generally well-liked and respected, no student wants to have his soul exposed to the white hell while sound asleep.
Fortunately for Kiram, he does not believe in the hells or Javier’s lack of a soul and instead avoids Javier because he thinks he is taunting him with his flirtatious behavior. Homosexuality is forbidden by the strict Cadeleonian religion, and although Kiram finds Javier attractive, he does not want to be deemed responsible for corrupting a Cadeleonian. Soon the two do strike up a friendship due to their mutual fondness for Javier’s simple-minded cousin Fedeles, who used to be a normal young man until the familial curse of the white hell is said to have changed him. As Kiram and Javier become involved in a more complicated relationship, Kiram learns more about Javier’s situation and realizes just how much danger they may all be in – and wonders if there is some way he can save both Javier and Fedeles from their cursed fate.
Lord of the White Hell: Book One had the same strengths that made me enjoy Ginn Hale’s earlier work, Wicked Gentlemen – compelling characters facing a clash caused by belonging to two very different social groups. In Wicked Gentlemen, there was a dissonance between Belimai’s demon ancestry and life in Hells Below and Harper’s role as a part of the Inquisition. Lord of the White Hell features a pair of young men who come from completely different cultures. As a Haldiim, Kiram was brought up in a matriarchal society that is open-minded about sexuality and does not follow strict religious rules. Javier and the rest of the Cadeleons tend to be very devout (or at least concerned with appearing to be devout) about practicing their religion. They must atone for their shortcomings through penance, only show interest in the opposite sex and uphold certain standards. As the two are attracted to each other, their different attitudes about socially acceptable behavior provide a source of conflict.
Although there is focus on the relationship, it is certainly not the only source of contention in this novel. Kiram faces many challenges common to young people, especially those leaving home for the first time to go to college – being accepted, making friends, becoming independent, and struggling with subjects one may not be as good at. While Kiram excels at mathematics and science, he does have difficulty with sword-fighting and horseback riding, mainly due to a lack of exposure (and I did appreciate that whenever he did improve, he did so at a realistic pace and was not suddenly the master of everything in the known universe and beyond). Other challenges are not as common – there’s also the mystery surrounding the white hell and Kiram’s desire to save his friend Fedeles from his curse.
Kiram was very easy to feel sympathy for. He’s a young man leaving his home to go to a distant school in a foreign land and a lot of hopes on his shoulders since he’s supposed to have the potential to win the Crown Challenge for the academy. From the moment he thought one of his new teachers didn’t like him too much, probably because his first impression of this supposed great thinker was his falling out of a carriage into the mud, I felt for Kiram. The other characters were also wonderful – Javier with his mix of charm and arrogance he used to cover up any vulnerability, the artist Nestor with his kind-hearted good nature and Fedeles with his childlike sweetness. It is an all-male school and there are almost no female characters and none of the few there are appear for very long.
As this is the first half of the story, there is a cliffhanger ending that left me desperately wanting the next part of the book. It was one that wormed its way into my heart and made me really care about these characters and what happened to them, making it rather difficult to have it end without knowing how everything wrapped up.
Lord of the White Hell: Book One made me eager to read the second book. Spending time with the characters in their world was an enjoyable experience, and I look forward both to discovering more about the white hell and finding out what happens to Kiram, Javier and Fedeles.
My Rating: 9/10
Where I got my reading copy: It was an ARC from the publisher.
Tomorrow there will be an interview with Ginn Hale discussing topics including her upcoming projects, some of her favorite books from childhood, the thought process behind the cultures she creates and the role of empathy in writing.