Stranger of Tempest by Tom Lloyd

Rating 8.5/10
A fresh fantasy story that incorporates a lot of what I love about the genre

A Recommended Book of the Month

Lynx is a mercenary with a sense of honour; a dying breed in the Riven Kingdom. Failed by the nation he served and weary of the skirmishes that plague the continent's principalities, he walks the land in search of purpose. He wants for little so bodyguard work keeps his belly full and his mage-gun loaded. It might never bring a man fame or wealth, but he's not forced to rely on others or kill without cause.

Little could compel Lynx to join a mercenary company, but he won't turn his back on a kidnapped girl. At least the job seems simple enough; the mercenaries less stupid and vicious than most he's met over the years.

So long as there are no surprises or hidden agendas along the way, it should work out fine...

We all know that things are definitely not going to work out fine, but if it did it wouldn’t be much of a story. Instead, what starts off as a simple job for Lynx - a man who is distinctly rough around the edges but who has retained a strong sense of right and wrong, and the large band of mercenaries that he has temporarily joined - rapidly turns into a flight from the soldier disciples of a broken god into the monster-ridden ruins of an extinct civilization. 

When I first picked this up I was thinking ‘here we go, another fantasy trilogy with mercenaries, magic, civil wars, religious cults and an anti-hero with a heart of gold’, and yes all of those things are in there, but this isn’t another forgettable story about somebody being plucked from obscurity because they are the world’s most powerful wizard, it’s far more in the vein of Joe Abercombie where strong and distinct personalities come through and they aren’t amazing people, they’re just people trying to do the best that they can and not die.

Obviously with any large fantasy series you have to set the world up and give some of its history and many firsts in trilogies get bogged down with the detail. Lloyd gets straight in there with the action with an excellent pair of opening chapters, one set in the present where it turns out the kidnapped girl is far more capable than anybody expected, and the other set two weeks previously. This device works very well in contrasting the setting up of the plot with explosive action, keeping the story moving forward at a strong pace.

We start off with Lynx, fresh from spending the night in a small town prison, being advised that him sticking around isn’t appreciated. Looking for work, he meets a band of mercenaries who use playing cards as denoters of rank within the group; an interesting eccentricity from the sometimes benevolent, sometimes dictatorial Anatin who runs them. Lynx isn’t interested, but the story of a kidnapped girl and the need for work pulls him reluctantly in.

Unfortunately for them, his sense of honour will land them with a young female night mage, Sitain, and several dead members of a religious cult who collects fragments of the shattered gods, which are used to create the main weaponry in the story - cartridges for mage guns. This then leads to the group being hunted by very disciplined and well trained templars who want revenge for their comrades and to get the mage back so she can be used by them to create their weapons. I really liked the mage gun element as it means that anybody can throw bolts of ice or lightning around, leaving Sitain to have a far more interesting and delicate power.

Lynx works well as the main character as he’s an outsider who has to get to know everybody else - introducing us to them naturally along the way - but he has a strong back story of his own. His ethnicity as well, coming from a war-like neighbouring state which brutally conquered large areas of territory under a communist-style regime before imploding, means that there will always be tension as there are many who still hate his country for what it did. This tension will eventually be used to lever the story out of the taverns and into the midst of a crumbling death trap of a ruined megacity wrought by stonemages an unknown number of centuries in the past. Now, it’s inhabited by a strange four-eyed underground race of humanoids and a whole list of horrifically nasty creatures.

As you have probably gathered by now, I was very impressed both with the tone and Lloyd’s ability to craft a fresh fantasy story that incorporates a lot of what I love about the genre. It feels very modern in tone, reflecting a welcome movement in fantasy towards strong female characters and diverse ethnicities, but where this is the norm, not tokenism. If you enjoy Joe Abercrombie’s novels I think you’ll have a lot of fun with this too and I’m keenly awaiting the next in the series.

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