Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Sword Of The North - Luke Scull

Sword Of The North
A Grim Company Novel
Luke Scull
NOTE:  If you haven’t read the first book in this series, THE GRIM COMPANY, this review contains numerous, unavoidable spoilers.  Proceed at your own risk.  Or, better yet, go read the first book!

Too often, especially in fantasy, the second book of a trilogy can feel like a long game of moving low-value pieces around the board, to prepare for the big finale that will be the third book.  That is absolutely not the case here.  We follow Northman Brodar Kayne (the Sword of the North) and his friend, Jerek, as they travel back to the Northlands.  The road is long and treacherous, and peopled with individuals and groups still smarting from their southward passage a couple of years ago.  Brodar must return to the north to find his wife.  You may recall (spoiler alert!) that he learned in the last novel that she was not killed, as he had long thought.
Kayne is not your typical hero.  In his day, he was the king’s right hand, the Sword of the North, a hero known and admired by everyone.  Now he’s much older.  He still carries the title and the sword, but he’s also got the creaking knees, failing eyes, and aching back to go with it.  None of that affects his heart or will, which as everyone knows, is the true measure of a hero.  As Kayne and Brodar proceed north, they’re forced to deal with the many dangers of the Badlands.  Some of those are known, and some seem to be new; possibly brought on by the epic battle of Dorminia only three weeks ago.
The people living in Dorminia are still adjusting to the death of their ruler, a supposedly-immortal Magelord, Salazar.  He was a tyrant, no doubt.  They thought that, after his death, they would be ruled by the serene and gentle White Lady.  As it turns out, the White Lady seems to be much more interested in looting their city and taking the treasures back to her city, leaving an increasingly aimless and jobless noble class; and leaving the lower-income inhabitants at the point of starvation.  Eremul the Half-Mage, hero of the recent battle and new appointee to the ruling council, knows that if it’s this bad in three weeks, it’s only going to get worse, fast.  His opinion is bolstered by the fact that a terrorist is fire-bombing the city, seemingly at random.  It’s all a recipe for civil warfare.
As Kayne and Jerek move north, we’re treated to flashbacks of Kayne’s life, beginning when he was just a boy.  These are not just backfilling, they’re episodes that were important in making Kayne the hero he became, and the man he is today.  There are some real surprises throughout this book, both in plot twists and in character development.  Far from just ‘moving pieces around,’ there are big events with life or death stakes in play here in every region of this world.  
If you’re looking for a cute fantasy with elves and hobbits and kindly old wizards, look elsewhere.  This author writes a dark and brutal and utterly believable tale.  There’s violence of all stripes, evil both great and banal, betrayals, casual cruelties, and the occasional acts of heroism and selflessness.  If you haven’t met this author yet, you owe it to yourself to do so.  These are the kinds of books you will get lost in, won’t want to put down, and will feel a real sadness when you turn the last page and begin the wait for the next fantastic installment.

Rating: 9
May 2015
ISBN# 978-0-425-26486-7 (hardcover)


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