I thought this was an incredibly strong debut for an author, and I actually struggled with giving it 3 stars or 4 stars. The more I think about it, the more I think I enjoyed the book, especially because Bryski was able to keep me engaged in a story that’s not necessarily in my wheelhouse – one built around themes, characters and settings dealing with religion.
Bryski seemed to borrow from a few different Christian religions to construct the belief system that pervades the Ecclesiat – it felt familiar enough to not get lost in the dogma, but unique enough to be her own. I also thought she did an excellent job not getting bogged down in the particulars – if it was necessary to know an aspect of the religion to forward the story or round out a character, it was included. If it wasn’t, it was omitted.
I also really enjoyed the tension between the differing factions within the church. Normally in a story like this, its the old guard who clings hard to dogma, and the youngsters are the ones who challenge the status quo. It was the opposite in Hapax, with Alesta, one of the youngest leaders of the church ever, taking the hard line stance in end times, while Gaelin, the wizened old monk acknowledging that even the Beast (cast as the well-meaning Satan in the world of Hapax) has a role to play in the world.
The book was well plotted, and her characterization was excellent. Only one felt superfluous to me, Praeton, who is also involved in a twist at the end that I felt was also superfluous. The ending is what knocked this down from a strong 4 to a weak 4 for me, without giving too much away, I thought it was far too saccharine for my tastes. Part of that may be preference, I like my endings messy, and Hapax ends about as clean as you can get. All in all, I really liked reading it, and if Bryski comes out with another book set in this universe or otherwise, I’ll likely check it out.