A violent and thrilling tale of a cursed power.
Note: This book is part of the SPFBO 4 competition, and its score might change over time as our team discusses which selections will move on to future rounds.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is a well-established adage that has proven itself time and again throughout history and literature, politics and war. Although one’s intention may be noble to begin with, the journey to power can easily misshape a man’s soul, twisting it beyond redemption, leaving behind an unrecognizable husk that in no way resembles his former self. Though the result is often dire, the journey itself can be a compelling one. In A.Z. Anthony’s exciting and violent Servant of Rage, we follow the story of two brothers who are gifted with tools of incredible power, and the constant struggle they face to not succumb to its deadly attraction.
The entire book is told third-person from Subei’s point of view. He is a young hunter, living as a nomad with his large tribe of horse-riding warriors ruled under a khan. Their people, known as the Ghangerai, believe that their place in the world is to conquer. They see themselves as the predators and the rest of the world as prey. No one is lesser or greater for it, it is just the way of the world. Subei has two brothers; they are not blood-related, but the bond they share is just as strong. Bataar is the son of the khan, a skilled brute and a huntsman, who has dreams of becoming the new khan, though succession is not guaranteed. Kashi is a tracker; a less skilled warrior but an expert at picking up trails in the high-grass steppes where the warriors roam.
At the beginning of the story, we learn that an immortal, powerful being decides that he no longer wishes to live with the curse of his omnipotence, so he ends his own life. This results in his power being broken into countless pieces and granted to some of the strongest warriors across the world, Subei and Bataar included. These powers grant the “heirs” the ability to use lightning as a basis for magical combat. Flying orbs of power, wind strikes, and summoned walls of debris are just a few of the abilities on display that makes the numerous combat scenes thrilling and unique. But there is a catch: these heirs are drawn towards killing off all competition: each other. The more heirs a person slays, the more powerful he becomes… and with each new killing, the heir becomes one step closer to succumbing to an uncontrollable bloodlust of rage, aka bloodrage, from which there may be no return.
There’s a lot to like in this book. Anthony is a competent and confident writer; the prose propels the story forward at a riveting pace and there is little time wasted between scenes of action and tension. There is a prevalent theme of how power is both a curse and a responsibility, and some characters learn this lesson harder than others. The collateral damage isn’t pretty: Anthony goes hard into full-gore territory, depicting scenes of graphic violence with almost a childlike glee. In one scene, the bloodrage becomes so strong that one character loses control and makes a contest of how far he can splatter a victim’s remains. “A new record!” he exclaims. Indeed, it is.
I appreciated how the story jumped right into an overarching plot in the opening chapters. There’s hardly any time wasted on training before our characters are hitting above their weight, trying out new powers on the fly, and finding themselves outnumbered in multi-chapter scenes of hand-to-hand combat. The lightning-infused abilities come fast and furious, and it made me wonder just how big these epic battles will get in future volumes. Shades of Will Wight’s "Cradle” series and other light LitRPG elements come to mind as the characters learn new abilities and level up their powers after defeating other heirs. It’s a rewarding and exciting series of events to watch our heroes become stronger after each battle, yet also fall victim under the thrall of the bloodrage.
Yet for all its strengths, there were a couple of minor gripes I had with the book. While the book is singularly focused on Subei, there was a lack of strong characterization from its supporting cast. There are two major supporting characters that help the brothers train: one helps to train the body, and the other trains the mind. Both characters spent many pages with Subei and his brothers, yet we barely discovered anything about their pasts. They seemed to exist solely for the advancement of the brothers’ fighting abilities. I felt that there was great opportunity to learn more about these characters while adding some much-needed world-building to the story, but these opportunities were glossed over quickly. Instead, we spend most of the non-battle scenes inside Subei’s head, where he repeats to himself the same mantras of “responsibility and duty” to the point where it started to feel redundant by book’s end. There was a noticeable lack of subplots, and coupled with the lack of any deep characterization, I felt that parts of the book were underwritten.
But the book ends in yet another excellent battle scene, and it appears that there’s plenty of story left to tell. In a sense, this entire book could serve as a prologue for what’s to come; it could be quite a while before the final heir stands alone, and it will be interesting to see if the cost will be worth the gore-soaked price that got them there.
Should you read this book? If the idea of a Highlander movie that takes place in the world of the Dothraki sounds appealing, then you should absolutely read this story. It’s a fast-moving, ultra-violent fight fest that’s not too deep, but doesn’t have to be when it’s this much fun: a world of khans, horse lords, and lightning magic, and the tireless struggle to control your rage before it controls you.
You can read more of A.Z. Anthony’s work as he posts his original four-part story “The Dead Man’s Crusade” on the Fantasy Hive blog this month. It takes place in the same world as Servant of Rage.
Review by Adam Weller
7.3/10 from 1 reviews
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