Perfect for fans of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy comes a book that introduces the nicest guy in grimdark: Marik.
He begins the book without even a sword. He lives in a cut-throat world of slavers, mercenaries and thugs; yet, for all that, he just wants to make an honest living. He doesn’t enjoy killing, and only does it when he has to, though he excels at it. Once he gets a blade in his hand again, none who stand in his way remain standing for long.
It’s a very immediate story with a character who continuously gets dragged down by other people’s shit, and because of his genuinely gallant nature he always stops to lend a hand (or a sword.) As such the plot jitters around and takes unexpected directions, but in doing so Nick Brown demonstrates the compelling nature of grimdark fantasy: it’s about realism within a fantasy world. And life doesn’t always go the way we want it, and for Marik it certainly doesn’t. He takes a simple job, that of a bodyguard, protecting the daughter of a money lender and escorting her across the sea, when a mass storm hits leaving him victim to the elements.
From there, he finds himself in the midst of a new land where he quickly gets roped into aiding a rebellion against a tyrannical overlord Reverrik (and his ginormous enforcer Hammerhand.) The action that ensued is visceral and tense. For all Marik’s skill, on more than one occasion, I felt that if he took one wrong move he’d be dead. Hammerhand is a fierce fighter, and if his name wasn’t intimidating enough, he’s also over seven feet tall and uses a rather large mace and chain as a weapon. Marik has to use all his skill with a sword (and no small amount of luck) to just survive an encounter with such a deadly foe. Waiting to see these two slug it out one final time pushed me to the end of the book quite quickly: there’s nothing like a good grudge match.
The book has a strong ending, well-rounded characters and a backstory that is waiting to be explored. Fantasy is nothing without its world building. And this was free from huge information dumps and drawn out pieces of narration, instead preferring to reveal the information through dialogue as Marik remembered (or tried not to remember) his violent past. There’s much to be picked up here, and we have had a few small details, but I want to know exactly what made such a skilled swordsman as Marik flee from battle. I think there’s more than he’s letting on at this point.
It’s also worth noting that this is not only Nick Brown’s first venture into fantasy, but it’s also his first self-published novel. And it just goes to show, you don’t necessarily need a publisher to produce quality fiction. I enjoyed this every bit as much as the Agent of Rome series. It’s a solid piece of adventure fantasy.
Review by Sean Barrs
by Nick Brown
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