by Ed McDonald
I’d like to be able to claim some kind of ‘ahead of the curve’ cred for spotting this one, but I can’t. The folks at Orion and Gollancz who are publishing it, and sent me a preview copy, know exactly what they have, which is the next grab-you-by-throat grimdark fantasy. I had already ordered some before I got the preview copy, and after I’d read half of it I called the supplier to double my order. This book pulls together some of the best ideas in dark fantasy of the last five years and combines them in a book that feels, not like a mash up but an evolution of the genre. It’s told in the first person by Galharrow, a soldier / mercenary and occasional unwilling servant of the Nameless Crowfoot. The Nameless are the magical and remote quasi rulers of humanity and the only thing that stops the human lands from being overrun by the Deep Kings and their twisted monstrous minions. Eighty years ago the war with the Deep Kings ended with a stalemate when the Nameless Nall built a machine to blast the invading army into oblivion. In the process he also destroyed two human cities and created a tainted twisted no-man’s land called The Misery. For generations The Misery has been the buffer between border city of Valengrad and the Deep Kings, but more strange creatures than usual have been seen there and there are fears that the Deep Kings may be moving. Why they would do this is unclear since Nall’s machine is built into the border defences and if pushed they could use it again. Galharrow’s first awareness of this growing threat is when the tattoo of a raven that marks him as one of Crowfoot’s servants, bloodily rips itself off his arm and squawks a command to go to remote border post and rescue a young noblewoman. She is a Spinner, one of those who can pull threads of magical power from light. The power they draw is called Pho and it’s used to run devices from simple torches to Nall’s great machine. She also has a secret, a suspicion that the great and the powerful will do anything to silence. Circumstances have put Galharrow in the position of being the only one who can help her, and between Crowfoot and a secret of his own he’s got no choice. He’s not a hero, he’s not even a good man, but when all hands are turned against you and losing will cost you everything, you don’t want one. What you want is an utterly ruthless bastard prepared to do anything to win. Galharrow may not be the hero the world needs, but he’s what parts of it deserve.
Great story aside, there is so much right with this book. Sharp narrative, solid pace and a real sense of the world. It’s got matchlock muskets and some interesting magic powered technology, but they’re not overused. It’s part of a series, but it does resolve the major events of the book by the end. It’s not a cliff hanger, but you do get a hook or two for the next book. If you’re a fan of Brian McClellan, Joe Abercrombie, Anthony Ryan or Patrick Rothfuss then you want this.