The Traitor God is a noir murder mystery wrapped up in a fantasy setting. It’s a violent, adrenaline-filled adventure through a heavily segregated city split into the upper- and lower-class areas. I enjoyed the book as a whole but there were some issues I had. Unfortunately for a first person single POV book, the main character was one of the biggest. Edrin Walker is, by design, not a particularly likeable protagonist. It’s not necessary for the main character to be heroic or even just mostly good – Mark Lawrence pulls this off excellently in The Broken Empire. Jorg is a despicable person but he embraces it and it’s clear how his personality was formed. Edrin, however, just repeatedly tells himself how horrible he is in a self-loathing manner that is incredibly difficult to sympathise with especially at times when it’s at odds with his actions. I think perhaps the book would have benefitted from being written in third person or at least a less personal first person – just seeing Edrin’s actions would have been enough to show he’s meant to be this nuanced, troubled character. Instead, the reader is treated to constant internal monologues that forcibly remind them how tortured Edrin is which just gets a bit excessive.
Fortunately, however, I felt that Edrin was the only weak link in an otherwise strong cast of characters. The story is very much about Edrin but there are many supporting characters that subtly flesh out the city in a not too exposition-heavy way. My favourite is Charra with whom Edrin has a refreshingly platonic relationship. Johnson carefully balances her character by showing how the city guards and Edrin respect her enough not to pick fights and contrasts that with how she raises her daughter (who is badass in her own right) in the quite dangerous slums. There’s also Eva, a powerful paladin who defies the old Warrior Woman In Impractical Armour trope and the wizened leader of the Mages who Johnson manages to flesh out far more than expected with such little ‘screen time’.
The plot itself was a bit of a let-down by and large. Generally, in fantasy I’m more interested in the characters and world building but since this was a murder mystery novel, the mystery is the whole point. I’m usually completely dense when it comes to mysteries – in City of Lies I didn’t figure who the villain was until moments before it was revealed. In The Traitor God, the villain’s identity is honestly easy to figure out beforehand. The book is very-paced which is fine for the most part but waiting a little longer for the reveal or masking it more thoroughly would have gone a long way. It also relies on one of my least favourite storytelling mechanics – memories being blocked that slowly resurface. They always reappear at conveniently appropriate times and each memory is just important enough to be interesting or relevant in the moment.
At the end of the day, I did enjoy reading The Traitor God. It does some interesting things – the magic system is compelling, and I have a tendency to prefer standalone novels – but ultimately there wasn’t much to stand out as particularly amazing. It wasn’t bad by any stretch it just wasn’t something exciting or innovative. The Traitor God is definitely worth a read if you’re interested in murder mysteries or morally dubious protagonists.