A Thung Toh Jig, Book 1
Size: 5.25 x 8.00 in
Under the dirty streets of Ismae’s greatest port city, an old nightmare waits for Sylandair and Aliara, one that is stealing Dockhaven’s children, one only they can end.
When the pair escaped their owner and abuser years ago, they left him behind in a ball of blue flame, but as more children disappear near the city’s desalinization plant, their suspicions turn to the predator they believed dead. Accompanied by their less-than-reliable puka scout Schmalch, they delve into the forgotten depths of the patchwork city. Their search will lead to a twisting world of corruption and experimentation, uncover horrors greater than any they imagined, and summon memories they never wanted to exhume.
A dark science fantasy action-adventure horror, Things They Buried is the first full-length novel of Ismae, a world where science sometimes appears as magic and history as myth, where monsters make themselves and heroes are wholly unintentional.
This novel contains adult themes and violence.
- Named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2019
- Imadjinn Awards Best Fantasy Novel, Imaginarium Con 2020
- Independent Book Publishers Awards (IPPY) Gold Medalist (Fantasy)
Publisher: Independently Published
Booklife on Booklife wrote:
King and Swanson’s debut SF/fantasy novel uses dazzling worldbuilding and a hodgepodge of characters, cultures, and fantastic species to tell a powerful, human story.
Aliara and Sylandair had gotten out, or at least they thought they had. They were once slaves, but after their master, Kluuta Orono, apparently died in a catastrophic explosion, they escaped and never looked back. Now, in 2084, they’ve built a life for themselves, trading on their wit, skill, and clout in the atoll of Dockhaven. When rumors of the survival of their former owner reach their ears, they have little choice but to investigate for themselves. Meanwhile, in the ramshackle port city, there’s a constant buzz of tragedy; in particular, children have been disappearing. After the pair’s investigation turns up evidence of the cause of these disappearances, it soon becomes clear that something far darker is afoot. In this novel, the city of Dockhaven and the world of Ismae are nearly characters themselves, and the authors introduce a variety of unfamiliar humanoid species, such as the scaly draas and the imposing karju, as part of the complex setting as well as a nuanced mix of magic and science. The worldbuilding is nearly flawless in its execution, which will entice readers to immerse themselves in the story and acclimate themselves to its strangeness as they go. The novel also strikes a chord with its characterization; Aliara and Sylandair are shown to be very much in love, but they’re unscrupulous toward most anyone else and willing to lie to, steal from, or sacrifice others when necessary. They’re extremely confident and skilled but also deeply scarred by their trauma at Orono’s hands, and they remember those experiences as they go about their daily lives. Meanwhile, Schmalch, a not-so-trustworthy thief for hire, offers an outsider’s perspective on the main pair as well as welcome comic relief. The intriguing plot makes excellent use of its primary characters, resulting in a breathtaking, harmonious read.
An empathetic, complex, and offbeat tale.
William C. Tracey on William C Tracy Writer of Strange Worlds and Interesting People wrote:
King and Swanson pack their absorbing debut horror fantasy with brisk action, acute tension, and detailed worldbuilding in a land full of various humanoids. Aliara Rift and her mate, Duke Sylandair Imythedralin, both members of the gray-skinned chivori species, spent their childhoods enslaved by the abusive karju Kluuta Orono. After two decades, they escaped, and Orono was thought to have died in an explosion. Twenty years later, rumors of missing children lead Aliara and Syl to wonder whether Orono actually survived. When their reconnaissance (aided by their skittish, greedy sidekick, Schmalch, a small, hairless puka) turns up disturbing evidence, they explore Orono’s mansion for more clues. This unearths understandably painful, unresolved memories for Syl and Aliara, who call in a hired hand to expel the hideous monsters lurking in the building. The revelation that they are nightmarish genetically modified creatures sets the stage for a gruesome, violent endgame.
Readers who appreciate dense worldbuilding will be gratified by the complexity of King and Swanson’s work. This novel boasts a dizzying number of species, a unique calendar system, guns that rely on magnets, and unusual slang (cool things are “gloss”; a drunk man is “high-seas”). The authors deploy these details naturally and leave readers wanting to know more.
King and Swanson have a real skill for describing and deploying psychology. The horrors Aliara and Syl endured are slowly revealed and the contrast between the polished, heartless personas they project and their lingering internal trauma feels genuine. The point of view shifts between chapters increase tension by delaying the revelation of threats, especially during fight scenes, though the sections narrated by minor characters occasionally distract. The plot sometimes flags as characters struggle to understand what is happening, but these slower passages add real emotion and stakes, and the conclusion nicely sets up a sequel without feeling unfinished. Horror elements and surprise twists will propel readers through this smooth, diverting fantasy.
Takeaway: The creepy threats and fierce fights in this densely imagined novel will gratify fans of dark fantasy, especially those who want real depth in between thrills.
Great for fans of Richard K. Morgan’s The Steel Remains, C.S. Friedman, Joe Abercrombie.
Steve Caldwell on The Bookwyrm Speaks wrote:
I’ve been looking for a well-actualized secondary world story in this contest, and this one gave me what I was searching for. A quick note first, though, because I’d be remiss if I didn’t post a trigger warning. This story has a LOT of child abuse, sexual and physiological, and a fair bit of child death as well. BUT, if that doesn’t immediately push your “NO” button, I do want to add that it was all done, er, tastefully (if that can be done) and always the subject was treated as the vile act that is it. So basically, if you don’t mind people being justly punished for horrible things they did, then carry on!
There is a great depth of culture, species relations, and atmosphere in this story and I really want to read more in this world. This is billed as book 1, and from a quick search, looks like the second book came out in 2020, so I will likely look that one up after I finish with the contest. I can best describe this as The Lies of Locke Lamora crossed with Mos Eisley cantina. Though I was never completely sure on the extent of the setting—future, secondary, fantasy, or colony—there is a unique world expressed here and a fun romp of a story with plenty of monsters to fight and heroism to be done.
Most of the story centers around Syl and Aliara, who are on a mission of revenge against the person who owned and abused them as children, before they escaped to live their own lives. Considered an influential scientific mind, their abuser seems to still be around, though hiding for some reason, and continues experimenting on children (which is where a lot of the trigger warning comes from). Though the story does touch on some things in the larger world, most importantly what their captor’s original scientific objective is, this tale is largely centered on how Syl and Aliara come to terms with their pasts and make things right. There was one twist that came out later in the book I felt wasn’t telegraphed at all, which ties into the further story. I’m sure we’ll learn more, as it looks like later books will focus on the expanded world, and given the worldbuilding in this book, I’m eager to see what that entails.
The authors have created a rich world, less advanced in many cases than our own, but highly progressed in genetic engineering, where small animals can be turned into message senders and other helpers, and people can get new organs, limbs, and even new additions they weren’t born with. There are several sentient species in evidence, including small goblin like creatures, elvish or human-esque beings (including the main characters), a larger humanoid, and at least one other species, if not two or three. I had some small frustration in that it was never really clear if this world was insular, or had been visited by people from other worlds in the past, or if the species arose on their own, or if they were products of genetic engineering. That said, I’m content to learn more in future books. Swords and knives abound, but there are also guns ranging from pistols to rather technical rifles, making the setting an interesting timeless comparison to our own world. The city featured in the story is obviously old, and filled with all the beggars, thieves, and mad scientists of a swashbuckling tale.
The emotional journey of the main characters travels a lot of ground, as the two come to terms with how they were abused in the past, and why. Side characters get their satisfying arcs, and everything develops as the mystery of the story unfolds. Various sexualities seem to be accepted in this society, and there is some good LGBTQIA representation both in the main characters and the side characters. I don’t think the depth of character advancement is as extreme as it could be, but given that this is less of a character story and more of a worldbuilding story, I think it suffices for the adventure tale that it is.
Score out of 10 (My personal score, not the final contest score)
If you don’t mind (well revenged) child abuse, then this is a fun tale of adventure in an exotic, magical, steampunky world, filled with mad science. 8/10
Robin Kotow on @cozyintehnook (Instagram/Bookstagrammer) wrote:
I was offered a chance to review this book on an open offer for reviews. I hadn't heard of it, but decided the premise looked intriguing, so agreed to review it. I am happy to say it was one of the best decisions of the year. I would have to class this as one of my top ten reads of the last year, and that's a year that included Kings of the Wild, Ravencry, Priest of Bones and Wraith Lord. It's mix of sci-fi, low fantasy and steampunk are seamlessly blended into a story I didn't want to end.
In the island city of Dockhaven, greatest trading city on Ismae, a world where genetic engineering is common but something as common as photography is rare and expensive, children are disappearing, in the same pattern as they did years earlier. This is concerning to Aliara and Sylandair, who recognize the pattern, although it should be impossible, since the source of the original disappearances is supposedly dead. Aliara, thief and assassin, and Sylandair, Duke in another Empire, have a history with that source. Once, they were slaves to brilliant scientist Kluuta Orono, a man who used them for experiments and other more malignant uses. They helped bring him to an end, or so they thought, with the explosion at the desalination plant he was using to cover his experiments.
Going through the ruins of the plant, Aliara and Sylandair, along with their cowardly sometime assistant Schmalch, find the ruins of Orono's secret pleasure rooms, where he entertained the debauched rich of Dockhaven. They don't discover Orono himself, but they run across evidence that he may have survived after all. Barely escaping the underground lair, they make their way back to the surface and begin planning their next moves.
Sylandair decides the best way to find out what happened to Orono is to take his inheritance, which includes Orono's Mansion and grounds, which he had refused in the past. Bringing in a crew, led by an old associate of Aliara's named Haus, to clean out the squatters that had lived there, leads Sylandair, Aliara, Schmalch and Haus's crew into conflict with the hidden residents of the house: Orono's genetically modified monstrosities, who almost succeed in killing them all.
Bringing in an outside doctor, his sister/assistant and their pet monster, to try and find out what Orono was up to after the attack, they discover Orono was trying to use an ancient formula to become immortal. Unfortunately for Orono, he misread what was necessary, and things went very wrong indeed. When Sylandair is mysteriously kidnapped, Aliara, Haus and Schmalch must confront the evil that has him as well as the children. Even if they can get that done, the potential for an even worse evil may have arisen, threatening the whole world.
CHARACTERS AND WORLD BUILDING
Things They Buried is one of those books that combines creative world building with fantastically drawn out characters. Sylandair is the roguish nobleman with a tortured past, but is so much more than that. He has flaws and strengths, and is compelling to read. Aliara is such a strong character, yet vulnerable and flawed as well. She has so many skills, and is death on two legs, and yet her past haunts her to the present. Schmalch is the comic relief, but has surprising depths in a character that could so easily be a parody. The rest of the characters are excellently written as well, even the minor characters. You really get a feeling this is a real place just from interacting with the characters.
The world building is very intricate. You get a sense of Dockhaven as if your walking down the streets yourself. It has such creative elements, with the sci-fi and steampunk elements intermixed with the lowest of fantasy elements in such a way they just fit, even when they shouldn't. It is definitely up there with some of the great fantasy settings.
It's not too often you run across a book that mashes genres together as seamlessly as Things They Buried. It never feels clunky, rushed or forced, and the characters and world building is so solid, you won't want to put the book down. I am definitely looking forward to seeing what comes next in the series, and highly recommend this book.
Bryan S. Glosemeyer on @doombunnybryan--Instagram/Bookstagrammer wrote:
UNDERHYPED BOOK ALERT!! Seriously though, Things They Buried is SO GOOD. I don't actually understand why more people haven't read it. If you're into:
- fantasy stories
- science experiments
- peering into dark tunnels
- excellent world-building
- mysterious backgrounds
- things that go bump in the night
- explosive violence
- badass characters
- and Salad Fingers
then you have a strong chance of loving Things They Buried as much as I did.
Something is snatching the children, something that might just be hiding in the dark underbelly of Ismae's port city. Syl and Aliara thought that they had destroyed their captor and abuser years ago, but now they fear that he is very much alive. Together with an oft bumbling and scavenging helper, they must return to their old master's home once again to defeat him and save the children.
The authors did a fantastic job of making my skin crawl, making me feel the grittiness of this world, and absolutely freaking me out. It kind of reminded of a darker version of the world in Foundryside combined with the violence and creature horror of The Library At Mount Char. I could not put this one down and inhaled it in two days.
GO READ THIS BOOK!!
Sam Cooke on @readnext (Instagram/Bookstagrammer) wrote:
Things They Buried by Amanda K. King and Michael R. Swanson is one of the best indie books I’ve ever read. Combining sci-fi, fantasy, horror, steampunk, and the new weird, the world of Dockchaven is not easily pigeonholed. It feels like a mash up of Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, and Joe Abercrombie, while remaining unique and fresh. The worldbuilding is robust and fully lived in, without ever feeling overwhelming or reduced to info dumps. It’s the kind of genre-spanning book that illustrates what can make indie publishing so great.
We have four main viewpoint characters. (My favorite is the drunken puka, Smalch. How can you not love a character named Smalch?) All of the characters are deep into the darker end of the morally gray spectrum, though none of them lack their own sense of morality and goodness--its just well hidden under a lifetime of scars and trauma. And uncovering what traumas and abuses remain buried is both the metaphorical and literal heart of this story.
I’m already looking forward to the sequel. I highly recommend Things They Buried. Support some indie authors and don’t sleep on this one.
Kat Dietrich on Kat Loves Books Blog wrote:
Things They Buried by Amanda K. King and Michael R. Swanson remains one of my favourite books read in 2019.
This is how you write a dark fantasy world! This is how you deliver diverse and complex characters to your readers. This novel was excellent and a breath of fresh air. It is a mix of dark fantasy, sci-fi and horror. Everything had meaning and was backed up by strong dialogue between characters.
Duke Sylandair Imythedralyn and Aliara Rift escape together at a young age from their twisted owner and abuser thinking they’ve left him for dead. Eventually they start to believe this might not be the case, and so they enlist the services of the often drunk and always scavenging puka Schmalch. Together they find themselves dealing with unwanted inheritances, missing children, terrifying creatures, and the scars of their past and present.
While we primarily read from the POV of Aliara, Sylandair and Schmalch, we also get to experience the view of many different characters throughout the novel. I don’t always enjoy jumping from so many different POV’s, but it really worked for me here. Haus was one of my favourites! I always looked forward to his chapters. Overall I already miss the characters and can’t wait to explore more of the world of Ismae.
Just a Few Words: First…this is not a children’s fantasy series. Definitely for adults. Second….I read this a couple of months ago….and forgot to post my review. Apologies to the authors.
Things They Buried by Amanda K. King and Michael R. Swanson is the first in the Thung Toh Jig Science Fiction/Fantasy series.
First, let me thank the authors, for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
My Synopsis: (No major reveals, but if concerned, skip to My Opinions)
The Port of Dockhaven is a strange city on the planet of Ismae, filled with all manner of beings. Although the world of science and mythology collided, and the residents may look different, have different skin colours (really different), and have different degrees of intellect, they mingle as one.
For Duke Sylandair Imythedralin and his lover Aliara Rift, a shared childhood owned by the monster Kluuta Orono has left them on edge. Orono was on a path seeking immortality, and he thought he may have found it. In his research, he experimented on children….often Aliara. Although assumed to have burned in the fires that they escaped, they have never been sure that Orono is really gone. When rumours surface of a possible sighting, Syl and Aliara, with the aid of a scavenger, Schmalch, follow Orono’s trail. Soon they enlist the help of Haus, a member of the Thung Toh organization (as is Aliara), who is specially trained in combat, and other essential skills.
When they realize that children from Dockhaven have been disappearing, Syl and Aliara are sure that Orono is back. The group goes underground to find him. Along the way it becomes evident that they will need someone else to go over all the notes that Orono left behind, so they hire Hergis Savesti, a scientist/physician, to try to find information as to where Orono may be. Hergis involves his sister and another assistant.
Things get stranger.
WOW, well this was a surprise. Not only did I step into the world of 2084….I stepped into a brand new world, and another planet. This planet has all sorts of new creatures, some having many human traits and characteristics, and others….not so much. This is not my normal genre, so I was pleasantly surprised when I realized how much I was enjoying this book, and when I realized there was a real story behind all these crazy individuals.
It was a tale of action and adventure, good guys and bad guys, and it is a tale of love and friendship.
The characters were just as interesting as the story itself. The love between Syl and Aliara was so strong, mainly because of their shared childhood of abuse. The friendship of the others grew as they learned to trust each other, and to trust in themselves.
Told from different points of view, the story unfolded easily, and although the characters may have had an extra nose, or limb, or whatever….it quickly became apparent that it was their story that was important.
Often it takes a while to really understand a book which has unfamiliar characters, places, creatures, words… The authors made everything clear. The writing was really excellent, the imagery vivid, and the plot was very good. I am looking forward to the second in this series.