Despite the fact that “funeral games” sound like a depressing (or deadly) form of entertainment, and the story is set in the bleak country of Ingerval, also known as the Land of the Dead, the book Funeral Games by Colin Heintze is anything but lifeless. It quickly draws readers into an intriguing world full of politics, mystery, and long-dead ghosts who rule over the Living.
A well-written, entertaining ride through a unique world that I thoroughly enjoyed.
A funeral normally signifies an ending; this book bucks that trend by beginning with one. Most curiously, the person being farewelled is very much alive at the beginning of the ceremony. Funerals in Ingerval are far from depressing affairs for the nobility, for they do not die the true death. Instead, they come back as ghosts, bound to haunt the space in which they died. As such, the nobles in Ingerval like to choose their own time and place to die, and becoming an attractive ghost is desirable. They gather their family, friends, and loved ones in their ancestor hall, hold a massive party, and then drink poison – ending their physical existence and beginning their eternal, spectral one. Together with their ancestors, the deceased rule over their clans.
It’s a really interesting concept, and Heintze executes it with a well-defined system of rules about how the ghosts exist and interact in their haunts. The ancestors enjoy power and influence, but those who die before their time are bound to the place they fell, and then there’s the Old Palace, shunned even by the nobility and filled with long-forgotten spirits, many of whom have gone insane after hundreds of years of isolation.
Our protagonist is Prince Syphax, the youngest son of the king’s third wife. Ninth in the line of succession and relatively unimportant, he has no desire for power or interest in the games and affairs of nobility. Yet, when the king announces that his own funeral is imminent, Syphax is pulled into a political struggle which turns into all-out war when the king unexpectedly dies the true death, and his ghost does not return to proclaim an heir. With chaos breaking out all around him, Syphax takes it upon himself to find out what truly happened to the king.
The plot twists and turns, and Syphax discovers some horrible secrets that go far beyond a simple power struggle between rival clans. The mystery kept me turning the pages, while simultaneously being entertained by Syphax’s antics as he turns to reckless abandon to save his country. Heintze stops the subject matter from becoming too morbid by balancing it with dark humor and some quirky characters.
It’s easy to follow the affairs of the various clans and the history of Ingerval, as Heintze introduces and writes about them in an engaging way that is easy to understand and keep track of. No tedious information dump nor glossary is needed. Compared with what happens after the king’s funeral, I’d say that the book starts off a little slowly, but this is the part where I was most curious to learn about the world, and its ghosts, so it didn’t feel slow at all. Rather, the pace picks up speed and continues accelerating all the way to the end.
Character development, on the other hand, isn’t strong, but there were plenty of interesting and entertaining characters who were able to carry the plot, even if some of them occasionally had rather quick changes of heart. Likewise, the ending of the story felt a little rushed, and some things fell into place a little too easily.
I was able to speed through this book quite quickly, partly because it was hard to put down. It’s a well-written, entertaining ride through a unique world that I thoroughly enjoyed. I recommend it to fans of paranormal fantasy and mysteries.
I’ll definitely be interested in checking out more from Colin Heintze in the future.
Thank you to the author for providing us with a copy of the book for review. You can find out more about the book here.