The Grim Company by Luke Scull
Set years after mages stormed the heavens and brought down the gods, casting their bodies to the world below where the corpses now leak wild, unpredictable and extremely dangerous magic, The Grim Company focuses on the aftermath of this feat, where three cities ruled by three immortal mages struggle for control over finite sources of magic. The grim, miserable city of Dorminia is ruled with an iron fist by Salazar, with the skies patrolled by mindhawks and the streets searched for heretical thoughts by Salazar’s augmentors, whilst across the Broken Sea is Thessala, ruled by the enigmatic White Lady.
To quickly sum up the plot we follow a small band of rebels whose aim is to destroy Salazar and liberate the people of Dorminia. These include the barbarian Brodar Kayne who is past his best and has to struggle with the consequences of age and his own choices that he made years before, a young assassin, Davarus Cole, who has wild ideas of grandeur and his own heroic place in the world, and a young sorceress who also has a great deal of ambition but has a lot to learn about the realities of life.
War has been declared, with Salazar wiping out one of his rivals who ruled the city of Shadowport in a blistering opening chapter to the series. This show of power however has weakened Salazar and the White Lady, with her dead-eyed agents in white, are making their move against him in order to secure the last sources of magic. Alongside this, the rotting corpses of the gods and their magic has spawned horrific beasts that are spreading and decimating communities.
I thought the background story of The Grim Company was really interesting; the idea of ‘mankind’, though mages have moved beyond mere humanity with their magic, taking down the gods and bringing devastation upon the world. However, I will have to be more restrained than the above reviewer because although as I said before, the novel starts with a searing opener, for me this level of excitement and visual power wasn’t maintained and the story flags in the middle before picking up at the end. We follow several characters in a first person narrative style across the book, which helps build opposing viewpoints to a certain degree though I think the character of Brodar Kayne stands above the others in terms of being interesting enough to care about. Unfortunately for me there were no others apart from him and a mutilated mage who is biding his time to take his revenge on Salazar whilst acutely understanding his own limitations that really held that much charisma.
Alongside this, a lot of the ideas in this novel – fighting mages, rebel assassins, magic weapons, monsters attacking small villages, etc. – aren’t new in fantasy fiction and there are reams and reams of fantasy series that use these elements in various ways. That is fine, as long as the author can build a convincing, unique world to set this in, and have strong enough characters to carry the plot along. I know this is the first of a trilogy and because of this a lot of introducing characters and building background and so on has to be part of it to a certain extent, but unfortunately for me I was never gripped by what was taking place as it felt a bit one dimensional. Maybe this will change as the story moves into the second and third books of the series once the reader has a sufficient level of background on the history and characters but I think there needs to be a wider view possibly of the world itself. Life in Dorminia and Thessala for example are quite minimally described, though the end few chapters did rectify some of the remoteness of the character of Salazar. The book works best when the huge set pieces are brought out, but these are too sparse to fill the gaps and the plot is really very simple which leaves me struggling to a certain degree to really care about either of these cities when the most interesting character is a barbarian who is exiled from his homeland and has no allegiance to either of them.
Overall, it is a fairly decent start to a new trilogy, and the language used is refreshingly blunt and to the point, but the characters and plot so far is not the most memorable I have come across.
Cat Fitzpatrick, 7/10
This is a world dying. A world where wild magic leaks from the corpses of rotting gods, desperate tyrants battle over fading resources, impassive shapeshifters marshal beasts of enormous size and startling intelligence, and ravenous demons infest the northern mountains. A world where the only difference between a hero and a killer lies in the ability to justify dark deeds. But even in this world, pockets of resistance remain. When two aging warriors save the life of a young rebel, it proves the foundation for an unlikely fellowship. A fellowship united against tyranny, yet composed of self-righteous outlaws, crippled turncoats and amoral mercenaries. A grim company, indeed…
Head of Zeus, who is publishing The Grim Company series, just opened its doors early last January 3rd 2013. Already they have a great amount of titles published to start with and many to follow soon this year. But already somewhere late summer there was a big press release about this particular book: The Grim Company written by Luke Scull, which is the first of a three books series. Luke Scull is known for his game designing of roleplaying-games like Neverwinter Nights, The Witcher and has also worked for Bioware. The Grim Company is his venture into the written word of fantasy. And I am already hoping he is not stopping after these three books!
Okay, onto The Grim Company itself. This book offered for me a more than great reading experience. I have read a lot of epic/high and sword and sorcery fantasy from some of the well known and less known authors out there and there are a few to which I can compare the setting of the Grim Company. I do think that Luke Scull definitely has an edge in writing up the stories of The Grim Company, with his background in roleplaying game designing it is quite noticeable that he knows what he is talking about. The creativity in The Grim Company shows a great strength for an aspiring author.
The Grim Company has a lot of fantasy elements showing a great blend of epic/high fantasy and sword and sorcery. This latter part does have the most emphasis in the story. Just some of the elements used in setting up the story are: mages, magic, augementors, gods, highlanders, shamans, brethren and kingdoms at war to name just a few. It might already seem a lot from the beginning but each element is nicely introduced in the storyline, and each one adds a great flavour to the world of The Grim Company. It just gives this grand feeling to the series and really leaves you craving for more once you have finished it. Most of the scenes were full of sword on sword and magic action, it felt that some dialogues and events following up on each other could have benefited with a bit more finesse in elaboration or explaining how events followed up each other. The writing style of the book is pretty neat and directly places you into the characters that you are currently reading about, this must be owed to the fact that Luke Scull has worked on videogames and knows exactly what to do. There is another aspect that felt a bit like a videogame and that were the characters, again this is a minor detail but what you often see when you play a videogame are that the characters are already done. And for some of the characters this was true and they did feel a bit static in the middle of the book after they were firstly introduced. What I would have like to see was for some of the character to start to begin growing. In here the introduction were ready and you were more or less presented with a finished character. Take for example Brodar Kayne, who you got to meet earlier on in the story, his introduction was just done brilliantly and did show from the beginning a great amount of depth in his background but soon it felt that most of the events that surrounded him led his interesting character more to the background. But luckily this fell away in the end of the story where this was picked-up again. I was very pleased with this because it already soon felt that Brodar Kayne will play an important role in the other books to follow.
I already mentioned one of the important characters: Brodar Kayne. Next to his character there were quite a handful that make an important appearance. The main protagonist Davarus Cole was another great character that did grow a lot from start to finish. I really liked Cole’s character, he goes through a lot, from a member of the Shard not fully trusted, being taken capture, again being taken capture by a different party and from there he starts developing to his possible true potential. Another great feat in the book was how you as a reader was led to believe certain statements about the characters that were in the end complete turned around. This really got my hopes up for the sequels and what might occur there. This turnaround was also in store for Cole. Where he found out in the encounter between him and Salazar (I will get to him soon) what he really is. The ending of the book for Cole was directly up to my expectations, as you saw him in the earlier chapters, though he has grown confident he does flee in the end. Just a bit of a highlight of Kayne’s character. He is a Highlander, a barbarian, The Sword of the North. He is cool and collected and has a richer past than I first assumed. And by a twist in the end his goals have become clear and I am curious about what kind of adventures his quest will have to offer. All in all there is a great interaction between the many characters of the storyline, Cole and Kayne are just two of the many rich characters that you will get to know along the way. There are many many more interesting characters for you to find out.
The storyline itself is very, very rich with all the above mentioned elements in place, The Grim Company definitely hits the mark for a thoroughly enjoyable read. The story goes about a kingdom that is actually at stake. In the past the most powerful Magelords of the land defeated the gods in the godswar. The magic in The Grim Company is again quite unique (yes!). Magic is harvested from the Swell but also from gods. Mages have a reservoir of their own but they can leech magic from crystals and the like. On top of this Mages can also imbue objects/people with their magic and make the augmented. i.e. enhancing specific abilities, like on shows walking fast or swords that can cleave virtually everything. This augmented feat was really cool and was integrated to the fullest in the fighting scenes. It was just awesome to read about the fight between Kayne and Barandas (an augmentor of Salazar). Earlier I could make up that Barandas had great augmentation. And this face-off produced an enjoyable experience and reflected how I like to see this king of action. Because you know Kayne is special and this showed it again. Just to mention Salazar quickly, he is the tyrant of Dorminia, the city where he rules. He is one of the surviving Magelords and he ordered the culling of all the other mages that lived, so he could be sole ruler. But there are two more Magelords in this first book. The White Lady who is warring against Salazar and a distant party from the High Lands, The Shaman. The High Lands feature a rough and wild lands where the Highlands live. The storyline of The Grim Company can be divided into two. One with the war building up between The White Lady and Salazar but also that of the events that occur in the High Lands and that greatly disturb the plans of the Shaman. But they do both collide with each other in the end though. I must say that this was just fine and was glad to see that there weren’t that many more main storyline put up in this first book because then they usually feel to diverge. But in the end The Grim Company shows a few new openings into the second book of the series “Sword of the North”.
In short The Grim Company offers a more that great reading experience. There are so many different things happening in this book that it is hard to get everything told in a review, it is just something that you have to experience for yourself! So far in 2013 I have read only great books and happy to put The Grim Company in my shelves of one of the better overall books that I have read until now. It shows a great combination of many fantasy elements that are all worked out in nice details and leave nothing to be desired. Though some of the introductions might have been a bit hasty and lacked a bit of finesse, The Grim Company series will make a name of its own with Luke Scull great and addictive writing style and how he uses the fantasy elements to its fullest to produce a great story, he is definitely an author to watch in the future and if he continues in these lines he will, grow to be a top author. The Grim Company leaves you craving for more. It’s just that awesome!
The publisher of The Grim Company, Head of Zeus, is allowing you to get a free sample of the book. Well not a few sample chapters! But a stunning 2/3 of the book! You can have a look yourself, head over to: The Grim Company
Jasper de Joode, 9.0/10
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