Crossing Mother’s Grave by Jake Elliot [Review]

There are certain difficulties that one encounters when reviewing a sequel. The truth is, sequels don’t get the chance to make first impressions and it’s hard to approach one without having expectations that are tainted by the prequel. Sometimes, a sequel to a well-written novel has a lot to live up to, and sometimes sequels come across as being poor imitations of the original product.

Fortunately,  Crossing Mother’s Grave by Jake Elliot (published by Damnation Books) — the sequel to Elliot’s earlier fantasy novel The Wrong Way Down is an example of a sequel that does what it is supposed to do. Elliot’s second outing does everything that a good sequel should: it captures the best elements of the original and takes them to new heights, while also nicely addressing most of the criticisms of its prequel. Crossing Mother’s Grave is clear evidence that Elliot is evolving as a writer and, like its predecessor, is a fantastic action adventure story that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to fans of dark fantasy. Everything that was great about Elliot’s first novel is present here in Crossing Mother’s Grave and it’s done even better than it was before.

There's a lot of red. That's because the book goes faster.Like The Wrong Way Down before it, Crossing Mother’s Grave is a dark fantasy novel with an emphasis on fast paced action and adventuring rather than political intrigue or saving the world, and there’s also a slight hint of horror awaiting readers who don’t mind things getting squeamish. If you’re looking for the complexity of Game of Thrones, you won’t find it here. Like its prequel, Crossing Mother’s Grave is a thrilling chase story that happens to be set in a fantasy world. It’s not really anything you haven’t seen before in the fantasy genre (it actually kind of reminds me of a typical Dungeons and Dragons campaign from the old days — you know, the ones where a bunch of ill-equipped heroes spend the entire time going through a cave butchering orcs) but it gets points for being a fun ride and for not bogging readers down with the complex lore and politics that seems to be popular in the genre of late.

Crossing Mother’s Grave‘s picks up where the first book left off, with priestess Popalia and her party of adventurers still on the trail of a thief who stole a sacred artifact from Popalia’s temple. Having escaped from the Regulator’s fortress, they’re one step closer to finally closing in on their quarry, though things start to get complicated again when they encounter a raided merchant caravan and have to deal with yet another dangerous obstacle. While the story is a direct continuation of The Wrong Way Down, Elliot does a good job of keeping his readers up to date with what’s happened so far and, given his tendency to avoid convoluted backstory, Crossing Mother’s Grave can probably be easily enjoyed on its own without having to read the prequel. There aren’t a lot of links to the previous novel that make it necessary to read the two in sequence and Elliot has done a good job of making Crossing Mother’s Grave accessible to new readers as well as fans of his previous work.

While the basic story and format isn’t too different to the previous book, the actual prose in Crossing Mother’s Grave shows a clear improvement over The Wrong Way Down. One of my criticisms about the previous book concerned its lack of cohesive character development (there was one notable character who grew as a character but then regressed back to how he began at the outset — which wasn’t a satisfying character arc) and Elliot has worked hard to make sure that his characters are a lot more fleshed out and believable this time around. Popalia is a strong female protagonist (which is a nice thing to see in the fantasy genre) and the character development works a lot better. Elliot’s writing style and general pacing have also improved — while the first book suffered from grammatical errors, changing tenses and a few over-descriptive passages, these are mostly absent in Crossing Mother’s Grave. Elliot’s writing is a lot tighter than it was before — the pace of Crossing Mother’s Grave is consistent and the action is exciting. 

Again, if you don’t generally like fantasy novels, then don’t expect Crossing Mother’s Grave to be the book that changes that sentiment. However, if you don’t mind the traditional tropes and you’re looking for something that goes down well on a lazy summer day, you can do worse than check out Crossing Mother’s Grave. Assuming you liked the first book, you’ll like this one, too and if you haven’t read the first book, just skip it and pick this one up. Happy adventuring.

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