Pretty enjoyable fantasy story with a protagonist that cares
I received a free copy of Stranger of Tempest in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank Tom Lloyd and Gollancz.
I am not ashamed to admit that I was drawn to reading this book by how stunning Jon McCoy's cover artwork is. The second thing that made me think this novel was well worth my time is that it has one of the best opening chapters that I have read in a long time which begins with…
For a damsel in distress, she was rather more spattered with someone else's blood than Lynx had expected. And naked. Very naked.
'Well?' she demanded.
Lynx could only gape a while longer. Finally his words spilled out in an abashed mumble.
'Um - come to rescue you, Miss.'
'You'll have to wait,' she snapped at the knot of mercenaries crowding the doorway. 'I'm busy.'
The main protagonist in Stranger of Tempest is a portly but effective warrior called Lynx who is astonishingly honourable yet has had a pretty brutal and mysterious past. Lynx begrudgingly joins a band of mercenaries at the beginning of the book as he has no other options. The crew that he is now involved with are a colourful bunch with some well crafted individual characters and are led by the Prince of Sun - Anatin. The mercenaries were reminiscent of a biker gang featuring strong personalities and lots of banter. Experienced members become "named" and get a cool picture on their jackets depicting a card from this world equivalent of poker. Prince of Sun, Knight of Blood and Stranger of Tempest are a few examples. I thought the whole card system portraying crew members status was cool and unique.
The action sequences in this book are often intense, especially the above-mentioned beginning and the thrilling ending, however; some sections do drag on a bit in the middle and weren't very exciting. In my mind, this book was cruising for a 6.5/10 rating because of that until the excellent finale persuaded me otherwise.
Similar to a good number of fantasy books that introduce new readers to a multilayered world with histories, Gods and magic systems that are already established, we follow a current and a past account of events. I was surprised when the past story stopped what I think was abruptly about half way through the book. The timeframe for the past events is two weeks prior to the current so I thought full details bridging the time gap would have been included. There are about six points of view perspectives yet a large majority of the narrative surrounds Lynx. Lloyd also includes more of Lynx's background when the veteran warrior ponders past happenings.
This is book #1 of The God Fragments and although the fragments are mentioned in passing they are not really explained and this creates a sense of mystery in a good way that Lloyd's world has a lot more to offer. Similarly, the magic seems really interesting with different classes of mages that all have unique abilities relating to their alignment. We are only really presented the possibilities surrounding one magic class (Night) so a great amount more could be revealed in future tales. The weapons many of the mercenaries wield are Mage Guns which are super cool and computer game-esque. These guns can fire phenomenally powerful bullets based on a certain element (icers, burners etc...) There are also mysterious beings called Elementals which I am sure will be featured and explained further in The God Fragments next story.
Although Stranger of Tempest isn't perfect, there are a lot of positives here. I thought this book had a great opening, an awesome ending, and relentless action scenes - with good humour and crew comraderies thrown into the mix for good measure. This can be read as a complete standalone as everything is wrapped up nicely. I am pretty excited about the follow-up Princess of Blood which I believe is due for release July 2017. This is pretty enjoyable fantasy story with a protagonist that cares.
James Tivendale, 7.5/10
Lynx is a mercenary with a sense of honour; a dying breed in the Riven Kingdom. Failed by the nation he served and weary of the skirmishes that plague the continent's principalities, he walks the land in search of purpose. He wants for little so bodyguard work keeps his belly full and his mage-gun loaded. It might never bring a man fame or wealth, but he's not forced to rely on others or kill without cause.
Little could compel Lynx to join a mercenary company, but he won't turn his back on a kidnapped girl. At least the job seems simple enough; the mercenaries less stupid and vicious than most he's met over the years.
So long as there are no surprises or hidden agendas along the way, it should work out fine...
We all know that things are definitely not going to work out fine, but if it did it wouldn’t be much of a story. Instead, what starts off as a simple job for Lynx - a man who is distinctly rough around the edges but who has retained a strong sense of right and wrong, and the large band of mercenaries that he has temporarily joined - rapidly turns into a flight from the soldier disciples of a broken god into the monster-ridden ruins of an extinct civilization.
When I first picked this up I was thinking ‘here we go, another fantasy trilogy with mercenaries, magic, civil wars, religious cults and an anti-hero with a heart of gold’, and yes all of those things are in there, but this isn’t another forgettable story about somebody being plucked from obscurity because they are the world’s most powerful wizard, it’s far more in the vein of Joe Abercombie where strong and distinct personalities come through and they aren’t amazing people, they’re just people trying to do the best that they can and not die.
Obviously with any large fantasy series you have to set the world up and give some of its history and many firsts in trilogies get bogged down with the detail. Lloyd gets straight in there with the action with an excellent pair of opening chapters, one set in the present where it turns out the kidnapped girl is far more capable than anybody expected, and the other set two weeks previously. This device works very well in contrasting the setting up of the plot with explosive action, keeping the story moving forward at a strong pace.
We start off with Lynx, fresh from spending the night in a small town prison, being advised that him sticking around isn’t appreciated. Looking for work, he meets a band of mercenaries who use playing cards as denoters of rank within the group; an interesting eccentricity from the sometimes benevolent, sometimes dictatorial Anatin who runs them. Lynx isn’t interested, but the story of a kidnapped girl and the need for work pulls him reluctantly in.
Unfortunately for them, his sense of honour will land them with a young female night mage, Sitain, and several dead members of a religious cult who collects fragments of the shattered gods, which are used to create the main weaponry in the story - cartridges for mage guns. This then leads to the group being hunted by very disciplined and well trained templars who want revenge for their comrades and to get the mage back so she can be used by them to create their weapons. I really liked the mage gun element as it means that anybody can throw bolts of ice or lightning around, leaving Sitain to have a far more interesting and delicate power.
Lynx works well as the main character as he’s an outsider who has to get to know everybody else - introducing us to them naturally along the way - but he has a strong back story of his own. His ethnicity as well, coming from a war-like neighbouring state which brutally conquered large areas of territory under a communist-style regime before imploding, means that there will always be tension as there are many who still hate his country for what it did. This tension will eventually be used to lever the story out of the taverns and into the midst of a crumbling death trap of a ruined megacity wrought by stonemages an unknown number of centuries in the past. Now, it’s inhabited by a strange four-eyed underground race of humanoids and a whole list of horrifically nasty creatures.
As you have probably gathered by now, I was very impressed both with the tone and Lloyd’s ability to craft a fresh fantasy story that incorporates a lot of what I love about the genre. It feels very modern in tone, reflecting a welcome movement in fantasy towards strong female characters and diverse ethnicities, but where this is the norm, not tokenism. If you enjoy Joe Abercrombie’s novels I think you’ll have a lot of fun with this too and I’m keenly awaiting the next in the series.
Cat Fitzpatrick, 8.5/10
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