As the Godking Wills
The Empire and the Church span almost the entirety of the known world, absent some pockets of lawlessness and the realms of the deceiver.
They are governed as a despotic theocracy, ruled in name by the solitary and omnipotent God, Al'Shazan.In practice, Al'Shazan is bored, flighty, cruel and has little interest in ruling the Empire.
Instead the Empire is run by the High Priest, Minister of the Treasury, and the Knight Commander of the inquisition. Their job is to make sense of the contradictory nonsense spewed forth by their living God while simultaneously ruling the greatest nation that the world has ever known. The entire time, they have to maintian the facade that Al'Shazan is a benevolent and loving God in order to maintain morale in the general populace.
The actual genre for this is more along the lines of a Fantasy Political Comedy/Drama/Thriller. It will not be 'crunchy' (minimal action, minimal descriptions of powers/abilities) but instead be focusing on world building and political maneuvering. As a warning, it is fairly dark.
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This story had been hyped up a fair bit for me before I read it, and I still somehow managed to miss the fact I would be reading a comedy, let alone one this funny. So when I was introduced to Balthus, High Priest to the hedonistic nincompoop who is unfortunately also the omnipotent deity Al'Shazan, I was unprepared for what I was in for. Much like Balthus, as it turns out.
Yes, in As the Godking Wills, God is real, running an empire and, er, really shouldn't be. While not actively malicious, it's clear Al'Shazan is concerned solely with sating its own desires while the heads of its own empire run around frantically trying to keep it happy and soften its devastating edicts lest the capital go up in flames, as has happened multiple times in the past. It's a wry depiction of corruption in politics, the dangers of poor leadership, and what it's like having to 'manage up' to bosses having problems with competence, empathy or both. Too real, CoCop. Too real.
It is very funny, though.
Style-wise, I'd place Godking very close to the observational wit and social commentary of infamous comic fantasy writer Terry Pratchett. It has about the same level of absurdism in it as well, with the majority of characters played mostly straight, while others at first seem ludicrous until you realise you've at some point met someone just like them - or worse, multiple people - in real life. Again, too real. The writing quality is superb except for all the grammatical errors, which are prolific. It's particularly out of place here because Godking is such an intelligent story. But with a grammar edit, it would easily be professional quality.
Godking's characters are just wonderful. For the head henchmen of a terrifying god, Balthus and Gareth are wonderfully ethical, pragmatic, competent and fallible, devoting their lives to making the world a better place for its consituent races despite Al'Shazan's constant ability to thwart their efforts. Matthias, head of the religious inquisition, is an absolutely hilarious antagonist and another character I'm adding to the Too Real™ Squad. Then we have Al'Shazan itself, a breakout character if I ever saw one, whose every scene had me almost in tears from laughing so hard.
Godking is strongest at the start while new characters, trials and concepts are being frequently introduced, its exposition second-to-none. By the time we get to the mid point of the story, the pace slows down somewhat, with some of the concepts and characterisation being rehashed in what feels like slight overkill, and the plot perhaps delving a little too heavily into the intrigue side of politics without much forward progression. The final third picks up again with some key scenes and revelations culminating in a satisfying conclusion, although the ending did feel like it snuck up on me out of nowhere. Going from that slower pace in the central third to the too-rapid pace of the final act probably contributed. There was also one key realisation I made just a chapter before it became plot-relevant, which I felt I should have made earlier - this could have also used more exposition earlier on.
All that said, Godking is an amazing read that will make you laugh while delivering clever commentary about power, corruption, politics and religion. It asks the question 'what if God was real' and follows it up with '...and do you really want it to be?'. I think fans of Pratchett or British-style humour in general will absolutely adore this, and have no hesitation in giving it a five-star recommendation.
It's exactly what it says in the synopsis, and that is good.