"Being the good guy can be hell, well maybe good is a little subjective. Figure out who the Brethren are, kill them and save the world. Did we mention he works for he Devil and Adams first wife Lilith is his boss and the Brethren have been alive for 3000 years?"
It’s easy to point to the things I had issue with The Big Reap but I don’t want anyone to think I didn’t enjoy this book because I really did. Sam’s world has expanded both in experience, shape and geography and we get to follow him as he hops from country to country, body to body, struggling with the morality of taking over living hosts. It’s a struggle that comes off the page and could easily echo our own struggle with identity and the choices we make to be a good or bad people.
The main plot revolves around the Brethren, which I will get too, but we also get a little offshoot tale with I enjoyed greatly. Its inclusion, it could be argued, does not add a great deal to the main plot but I suggest that you take it at face value and revel in its deviation, as it is quite good. Using the best Doctor Who quote, “let's go kill Hitler”.
Holm’s has given us his illuminati in the form of the Brethren, shadowy and fearsome monsters from our worst and best nightmares. The Brethren’s legend is whispered as tales told in dark corners and on still nights sitting around a campfire. A collective of nine withered Souls; once-human monsters trapped in forever decaying bodies, no dream of eternal youth and no humanity. Just wait till read the description of the first Brethren interaction with Sam; that image still sticks with me for some reason. It reminds me of a kid’s baby doll with no legs and half a dozen arms… freaky.
This may come as no surprise but as a fantasy reader I don’t mind a good myth or legend tie-in within my modern fantasy. However, in this case, I found the addition of the vampire and werewolf premise as part of the Brethren legend to be a little on the nose. The Brethren already had good mythical legs to stand on.
While the form of Sam's character has been well written to date I still have not warmed to his plight. I am just not sure - are we meant too? Damned and doomed to collect dark Souls for all eternity, struggling with right and wrong in an afterlife of greys, can Sam still do good even though he works for the Great Betrayer? The fact that Sam has been written in way that means he accepts his faith irks me no end, only redeeming himself with his acts of verbal rebellion against Lilith and not taking living bodies. We can feel he chafes at the bonds of servitude but he doesn’t do anything to try and through them off, I hope this changes.
The appearances of Gio and Thereas are very welcome; they begin to add elements of friendship and earthly ties (seriously did I just write earthly ties), which has been missing from the previous instalments. Every hero needs their plucky sidekick, even if one of them is overweight and the other one blind. Not sure how that personal ad would read:
LTD (Long Time Dead) Bounty Hunter needs SBMF (Single Breathing Male/Female) for good times and occasion soul collecting. Must be non-smoker.
The humour is at times subtle but there are some laugh out loud moments (I am 33 I will not type LOL (damn!)) also. Dark, sarcastic and self-deprecating Sam stands tall, proud and ever so slightly angry in front of monsters and Gods. There is a chapter towards the end of the book when he is speaks with God and this exchange is dry and ever so slightly sarcastically funny. He delivers the line “I am Legion”, and it still makes me chuckle - you just have to read it to see what I mean.
Forewarning, this is me speaking rubbish (big heaping piles of it). I have one main negative around the concept of Souls in Sam’s universe. If freewill has been granted to all peoples and the Soul has untold power which no man or beast can capture or contain, how can it be collected? If a Soul is who and what defines you, then neither God can cradle it or the Devil smite it. If I am granted freewill, I will not, would not deliver myself to another for an eternity of pain and torture. The power and wealth of a Soul would be nothing but dust upon the ground if sold for trinkets of the time. If you know this, how can Sam still be working for the Devil and why would anyone sell their Soul. Is it all about the Long Con for both Heaven and Hell?
A good guy stuck in a bad world, we finally begin to see Sam shine. Redemption is close. A great series of books.
Review by Fergus McCartan
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