The Will of the Many by James Islington

Seeing as it is a new year and everything, I’ll be trying something new. I’ll write a short blurb about every book I finish reading. Or simply discarded before finishing it, which does happen, perhaps a bit too often.

The first book I finished in 2024 (started just before the turn of year) is The Will of the Many by James Islington. It is the first installment in a new fantasy series Islington has titled Hierarchy.

"The Will of the Many" book cover

I came across this book on Goodreads, where it was nominated as one of the best fantasy books of 2023. I’d just plowed through the entire Red Rising series, I needed to start on something brand new, and it seemed sensible to pick up something that wasn’t too much of a commitment. So, I gave it a go.

Coming directly from Red Rising, I immediately found many similarities to the world Pierce Brown created — perhaps the most prominent being the way the protagonist’s coming of age in a new world comes through a literal and hesitant advancement through the Institute Academy, an institution created for the express purpose of grooming new leaders for the unkind regime.

That one’s kinda hard to miss.

There are other similarities, too, like how “the Razor” is the ultimate weapon of the rulers in Hierarchy, just as in Red Rising. And the whole thing about how the entire human populace has been divided into a neatly structured hierarchy of social classes.

Beyond that, the similarities end, though. Where Brown’s space opera starts out constricted (but later, particularly from the fourth book and onwards, sheds all these notions) Islington is able to paint a vivid picture of a — much to my liking — traditional world of fantasy. Similar to the world we live in, more ancient in many ways, but with a fair few of the comforts we take for granted, albeit through vastly different mechanisms.

Speaking of the magic system, it appears as a clear homage to Brandon Sanderson’s perhaps most elegant manifestation of the forces in play in his vast collection of Cosmere worlds. But where Sanderson might be more, shall we say reserved, Islington is pulling no punches with his social commentary.

The story holds my attention well, and the book is an overall enjoyable read. Although it broaches meaningful and important subjects, I feel like it comes a bit short of the best fantasy works when it comes to truly tackling them. Where the best books will have you feel like you’ve lived through the challenges of the protagonist, I here find myself more thinking that I’ve observed and appreciated them.

And in the end, it feels like the story didn’t quite manage to deliver on its promise. There was a lot of early promise, but the grand reveal fell a bit flat. But there’s much to explore still, and I’m excited to see how Islington will build on this solid foundation in the books that follow.

Overall, you shouldn’t let these minor detractions stop you from picking up The Will of the Many. It’s a solid read.

Rating: 3/5

Grimdark rating: 2.8/5

(I picked up that one up from Mark Lawrence, who has given a Grimdark rating to all his own series of fantasy books. As a rule of thumb, the more of a masochist you are, the more likely you are to enjoy books that have a high Grimdark rating. I enjoy books with a high Grimdark rating.)