Nell’s talent for character building, detailed action scenes, and skilled pacing shines brightly
In all my years reading speculative fiction, I haven’t dipped my toes in the “flintlock fantasy” genre until picking up Richard Nell’s “Rebellion of the Black Militia” novella. I first became aware of Richard Nell having recently finished the remarkable “Kings of Paradise,” so I was eager to explore more of his work. This novella utilizes a vastly different setting and playbook than “Kings of Paradise,” and I’m happy to report that Nell’s talent for character building, detailed action scenes, and skilled pacing shines brightly throughout the story.
The plot centers around Johann, an apprentice Scribe who has spent the majority of his life in a castle tower reading and researching the history of the realm. He is a (mostly) pious young man, but not familiar with the harsh realities of the surrounding empire. At the onset of the story, Johann is summoned by the knight Lamorak to help him defeat and capture a demon. Johann would then proceed to bind this demon, therefore removing it from further threatening the land. Once the pair start their journey, Johann quickly realizes that his knight companion and the realities of the world around him subvert his expectations and worldview, and redefines what measures must be taken in order to serve the laws of their king. Soon, the pair become entangled with a rebel militia under the demon’s command, and Johann quickly realizes that his life’s path might not turn out the way he thinks.
Lamorak is a vulgar and battle-hardened knight with decades of war and blood under his belt, and a lot of early enjoyment is extrapolated from the relationship between him and Johann. They both have varied histories and conflicting morals, and their conversations and attitudes helped to breathe life into their characterization while also building upon the history of the surrounding empire. I was impressed at how much world-building information was tactfully delivered, as well as how well-defined Johann and Lamorak felt by the end of the story. Johann’s metamorphosis felt earned, and his decisions and changing viewpoints seemed like a natural reaction to the events he was experiencing. Character progression was one of the strongest parts of this story, and it speaks to Nell’s considerable talent as a writer to have his protagonist come so far in a relatively short novella.
Similar to “Kings of Paradise,” there is some magic in the world, but it was reserved until the final act of the story, and its placement and usage added a lot of tension and gravity to the final battle scenes. The binding of demons, the powers it grants, and the consequences of such actions were a driving force through the end of the story. It was thrilling to watch our heroes battle with cannons and powder-based firearms in a bloody and oft-horrific showdown, with several surprises and twists revealing themselves along the way. At first, the combination of muskets and super-powered demons felt like a strange combination, but Nell’s attention to detail and vivid descriptions of the sights and sounds of the battlefield made it feel natural and earned.
This novella is part of a planned trilogy of novellas that will serve as a prequel series to something much larger that Nell is working on down the road. While this story feels complete, it also opens that door for potentially many more exciting missions and quests in future installments. “Rebellion of the Black Militia” is an excellent introduction to the world of Johann and Lamorek, and I hope it won’t be the last.
Review by Adam Weller
Richard Nell concerned family and friends by quitting his real job in 2014 to 'write full-time'. He is a Canadian author of fantasy, living in one of the flattest, coldest places on earth with his begrudging wife, who makes s [...]
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