Eleventh Cycle by Kian N. Ardalan — A Review

Eleventh Cycle combines the strange and enigmatic lore of Dark Souls with the difficult lives of mortal men, and then manages to make the mortals seem the more enigmatic part. The five point-of-view characters act; sometimes emotionally, sometimes inconsistently, sometimes with flagrant foolishness, and yet never unbelievably. This is the core of the story.

I came in expecting a dry, dead world that needed to be restored, instead I found one teeming with pain and hope. Eleventh Cycle doesn’t mimic the loneliness of its videogame inspirations, but rather takes the mystery of those worlds and evolves it into something new. I was never lost as the story progressed, with every disparate chapter threaded to what had come before, and yet the way things came together in the end still felt like connecting a puzzle.

The writing is engaging, prose straddling that line between easy-to-read and well-crafted, and every chapter engaged me in the present. Early chapters struggled a bit with awkward exposition dumping, and yet the world was fascinating enough (and awkward Q&A sessions brief enough) that I did not mind. There were also a few editing errors, and some Victorian English that did not seem grammatically right, but these errors are few.

A warning: The story goes into dark and miserable places at times. The book warns of this, yet I lowered my guard during the first 2/3rds of the book. Do not read this if you can’t handle grimdark readings for any reason.

It’s not often I read a book that reviews itself, but Eleventh Cycle took the words out of my mouth with its epilogue. The in-world fictions, character tragedies, and overarching purpose of the plot are tied up neatly together on several levels.

Read this if you like Dark Fantasy fiction, character-focused tragedies/epics, or stories that contain well-crafted metaplotting. I can’t say more without spoiling something. Read it.

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