Sea of Ghosts (Gravedigger Chronicles I) I knew straight away that it was a must buy.
The Umner are a powerful race that had enslaved large parts of humanity. The chains were finally broken when the psychics of Haurstaf joined the war. The Umner's final act was to poison the world with their ichusae, flasks that endlessly spew out poisonous brine. The brine is poisonous to humans, first it kills them then it transforms them into sharkmen. Wherever the brine touches skin it will thicken the skin into grey hardened leather. All oceans are now full of brine and the water level keeps rising, the world is slowly drowning.
Thomas Granger is a colonel in the imperial army. He is an honourable man with an iron will who just does not know when to give up. He is disgraced and forced to flee away from emperor Hu. He ends up on an island where the empire sends its prisoners and after many year he inherits a prison from the man he found work with. Granger is now a jaded man without ambitions and hope. The spray of brine from the sea has slowly poisoned him and at the slightest effort his chest burns, but he still performs his daily chores in the prison. The prison has decayed with him and is in urgent need of repair and extension to keep the rising brine filled water at bay. He travels to the market where new prisoners are distributed among the prisons and one prisoner calls his name. His life changes forever and he finds himself with something to fight for once again.
Alan Campbell has once again showed his talent for world building. I love the cataclysmic setting in Sea of Ghosts, not only is the world drowning, but it is drowning in poison. Humans and wild life has been forced to adapt and it all comes together really well. Just like in the Deepgate Codex series we have a world full of despair and decay, but people still fight on. The reanimated drowned are living under the water where the living have been forced to retreat. Humanity have turned into scavangers where they hunt for 'trove' from the now imprisoned Umner, anything to give them an edge over the dangerous environment they live in. Alan Campbell has also conjured some fantastic Umner artifacts with amazing functionality, often quite funny and quite deadly. It's really top notch steam punk innovation we see here.
So far so good, but there are a few weak points in this first book. The characters lack depth and often feel very stereotypical, especially so the villains. The plot lacks direction as well, it is not really clear what is going to happen in the second book. This might be preferable to a cliffhanger situation, you could easily just read the first book as it works on its own.
Sea of Ghosts was still a good book with a lot of action and I will pick up the second one.