One of the more interesting themes raised in K.S. Villoso’s surprising and fun Blackwood Marauders is how a person responds to the hand they’re dealt, regardless of their circumstances. It takes an uncommon strength to break free from the mold that has been cast for you, and the two main characters in this story, Luc and Roena, exemplify this trait in spades. They each come from opposite sides of the nobility line, and end up carving out new and unknown futures while straying far from their set paths. These character journeys would be interesting enough on their own, but Villoso’s ability to present these arcs against an exciting backdrop of mercenary missions, political schemes & racial identity made this story a true pleasure to read.
Luc, short for “Lucky,” was born into slavery, and saved from a shipwreck during his infancy. His father Jak, a farmer in a small village, decides to raise him as his own. There was nothing compelling Jak to take on such a responsibility, but Jak views the situation differently: it’s as if Luc saved Jak, giving him a purpose, and someone to die for. Luc grew up living a sheltered life, having a close relationship with his father and his younger handicapped brother, whom he protects from the town bullies. But when Luc finally comes of age to be able to test into the army, he is surprised by the result: not because of a lack of mental fortitude or physical prowess, but because of his darker skin and country of origin. At 19 years of age, he now has no prospects, much less any idea of what to do with his life. That changes overnight, as an eventful night at a tavern tests his code of honor, and he gets mixed up with a gang of hardened mercenaries passing through his town. Luc soon finds himself caught in a web of danger and uncertainty that will change his life forever.
Elsewhere, Roena, daughter of the Duke of Blackwood, is a fiery and independent noble who cannot stand her lot in life. She feels imprisoned by the trappings of being the daughter of the Duke, who is forcing her to choose a husband at the next courtly function. The defiant Roena has utilized both her mental and physical agency to avoid betrothal to this point, but her time is running out. It was refreshing to see how confident and capable Roena is, and how unafraid she was to utilize any and all of her skills to achieve her goals.
Supernatural threats to the Duke’s lands pull Luc and Roena’s stories together, and that’s when the book really takes off and turns into something special. I was consistently impressed with how often my predictions were flat-out wrong; Villoso displayed considerable talent at keeping me guessing as to what would happen next. What started as a simple mercenary mission began to develop into something much more complex, and the story kept evolving into something far different than any expectation I held. The progression of Luc and Roena’s metamorphosis was only part of the story; the supporting cast of mercenaries, merchants, nobles, fae, and hulking monstrosities kept the story consistently fresh, and above all else, extremely fun. Villoso has crafted a fully-realized world that continues to live and breathe even after the book is closed. This story is set in a universe that Villoso has been building with multiple series and standalones throughout various periods of time, and it shows: there’s plenty of references to major events and crossover characters both past and present, and although this book is currently a standalone adventure, I wouldn’t be surprised to see these faces play important roles in future volumes.
Although this is my first foray into Villoso’s universe, I am certain that it won’t be my last. I was impressed with the relatable themes that the main characters were facing, as well as the amount of humor, heart, and moral dilemmas that the entire cast brought to light. At times, I felt that the characters might have progressed a bit too quickly to where they needed to be, but it’s a small gripe. This is a fast-paced and lively adventure with engaging characters and well-plotted thrills that’s easy to recommend. I’m looking forward to learning more about what this world has to offer, and Kay’s furious publishing schedule ensures me that I’ll have many adventures ahead.
Review by Adam Weller
8/10 from 1 reviews
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