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review 2015-09-04 22:01
A Grimdark Series That Slaps You Right in the Face!!!
The Dragon Engine (The Blood Dragon Empire) - Andy Remic

If J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin had gotten together to write a grimdark interpretation of The Hobbit, The Dragon Engine would have been what they came up with. Centered upon a quest to dwarven halls filled with mounds of gold and once inhabited by mighty dragons, it is a tale filled with pulse pounding combat, explicit sex, cringe worthy torture, and plenty of vulgar language. Literally, it is a story that gets your attention the simple, old-fashioned way.

 

 

For lovers of Andy Remic’s The Iron Wolves and The White Towers, this is a continuation of that series in that The Dragon Engine takes place in the same world several years after those stories. The mad King Yoon is still in control, swimming in absolute depravity and allowing the whole Kingdom of Vagandrak to go to hell. Meanwhile, a group of war heroes from the time of Orlana the Changer have grow bored of their fame and riches and determine to set out on one last, grand adventure together. Their destination the frigid, nearly inaccessible Karamakkos, where legends hold that the ancient Dwarven Lords ruled the Five Havens under the mountains, hoarding untold wealth as well as the three Dragon Heads — jewels claimed to grant everlasting life and great power to those who wield them!

 

Immediately upon starting this one, a long time reader will see that the main characters here are a bit different than those from the Rage of Kings series. Where Kiki and her friends were some of the most despicable pieces of human filth to ever grace the pages of a grimdark, Remic’s latest group isn’t quite so repugnant. Sure, they are still disgruntled war veterans, even though they are wealthy heroes, and they each have their own issues, but not one of them rivals the drug addicted, serial killer excesses of their predecessors. Rather Beetrax the Axe-Man and his friends struggle with more ordinary issues like growing old, loved one dying, relationships ending, and losing the zest for life.

 

Since this is begins as a classic quest tale, each of the Beetrax’s group seems designed to fill typical dungeon crawler roles. Beetrax is the damage dealer; Lillith is the healer; Talon is an archer; Dake and Jonti experts with the blade . . . You get the point. But it really isn’t the roles they play that makes Beetrax’s gang so fun to read about. Nope, unlike the Iron Wolves, these guys actually seem like old friends. There is plenty of playful banter. Occasionally their conversations will sparkle with feelings, revealing their past history together and the fragile sides of their nature. Old sorrows from romantic splits or new problems from being together will arise and be explored. Each interaction slowly revealing how close, how devoted these old friends are to one another, no matter the danger to themselves.

 

Every hero needs a villain however. And in today’s literature, it isn’t satisfactory to have nameless enemies or the shadowy of a dragon lying over the horizon. Nope, readers want to get to know their heroes’ nemesis, experience their evilness, and decide for themselves whether they love or hate this person. And so Andy Remic quickly splits the narrative into Beetrax and his friends quest and the life of one Cardinal Skalg of the Church of Hate, religious leader of the Harborym dwarves.

 

As you’d expect, the dwarves here are fairly standard fantasy versions: strong, stoic, and prejudiced against outsiders. (Beetrax’s group also believes they are long-extinct, which is why they are on their way to collect their long used and forgotten treasures.) Skalg, however, is an especially vile avatar of his race. Maybe, his maiming, torturing, and killing doesn’t reach Orlana the Changer levels, but he is still a fairly disgusting dwarf, no way around it, willing to rape innocent girls or do anything else to get what he wants. And his bad qualities only grow as the political struggle between himself and King Irlax of the dwarves grow. For, you see, in this kingdom under the mountains, king and cardinal are equal; each tasked with different things, but fated to eternally clash about everything. Skalg and Irlax’s constant bickering and machinations quickly growing into a societal revolution that will see either the crown or the church consumed in its flames.

 

Once our heroes arrive under the mountains and encounter Skalg’s dwarves is where the grimdark really shows up in our grimdark story, for the initial encounters are graphic, brutal affairs. Cruel, painful, cringe worthy even. In fact, many readers might believe Remic has gone too far in some cases, that these episodes are merely for shock value alone. I can understand why some would feel that way (even if I saw the horrible events fitting into the narrative), and I felt I should, at least, warn prospective readers about this section.

 

Thereafter follows a deluge of death, destruction, and betrayal as Remic concludes this opening chapter of The Blood Dragon Empire in classic grimdark style. Climatic clashes occur. Combat rages. Characters and civilizations end. And the real meaning of the dragon engine comes into focus, ending this first installment with a cliffhanger that will make grimdark lovers begin clamoring for the next book.

 

Since beginning to read Andy Remic, I’ve come to appreciate two things about his writing. One, he has a raw, visceral style that slaps you right in the face. No sugar coating the vulgar nature of humanity and the horrors of combat and war. No, they are vividly portrayed upon the pages, daring you to look away. Curse words abound. Buckets of blood and gore are tossed around indiscriminately. And, two, he creates vivid characters that never bore. I don’t always like these guys. Many times I actually despise them and want to personally decapitate them, but they definitely evoke a deep emotional cord with me, which means it is never a chore to flip to the next page.

 

I’d love to be able to sum The Dragon Engine up into a nice paragraph, but I really can’t. (Hey, I did try at the beginning, right?) This book dug its claws into me on so many levels it is hard to isolate what exactly made it a 4 star novel. Perhaps it was the complex but flawed heroes. Maybe the familiar Hobbit-esque quest morphing into a grimdark nightmare did it. The wonderfully paced story and realistic action definitely entertained. No matter the ingredients though, Remic casted a spell with this one, and if you haven’t experienced his take on grimdark, you really should give this one a try.

 

Angry Robot and Netgalley provided this book to me for free in return for an honest review. The review above was not paid for or influenced in any way by any person, entity or organization, but is my own personal opinions.

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review 2015-06-24 10:25
What a girl wants.....
Iron: Blue Collar Wolves #1 (Mating Season Collection) - Ronin Winters,Mating Season Collection

I was given an ARC of Iron from the author, in exchange for an honest review.

I finished Iron today & what a story it is! I was enthralled in the story I was reading, sucked into the pain of Iron & his choices about not mating with his true mate Bella.

Iron has been keeping his distance from his true mate Bella, he's known her since they were both young, but he doesn't want to bring her into the world of shifters. Wanting only whats best for her, he decides to ignore the mating pull. Bella has decided to finally have her man & with the Mating Moon up it's now or never....

I really loved the push & pull that was all of Iron & Bella's story, Bella is strong & just wants what she's only ever wanted.... all she needs to do is convince a very stubbon wolf.

Iron is book 1 in Ronin's "Blue Collar Wolves" series, which in turn is a part of the "Mating Season" pack series. A set of books from 6 authors, 6 different packs & an individuals story on finding their mate. I can't wait to read more Ronin's "Blue Colloar Wolves" & to delve into the other authors work in the "Mating Season" series.

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review 2014-08-12 21:06
THE WHITE TOWERS
The White Towers - Andy Remic

With The White Towers (The Rage of Kings Book 2), Andy Remic does something amazing. He takes the members of the Iron Wolves and actually begins to turn them into some semblance of human beings without losing their grimdark appeal. For those of you have not read my review of The Iron Wolves, I’m sure that seems somewhat nonsensical but just trust me when I say that our heroes are some of the most despicable, vile, and loathsome humans you will ever come across. From pit fighters to drug addicts to kidnapper/serial killers, the Iron Wolves run the gamut of human depravity. Honestly, when reading the first book of the series, I felt dirty for even routing for them to not be hanged for their crimes against humanity. But as I said, in book two, Andy Remic begins their slow transformation into something more than classic grimdark caricatures.

 

The story picks up right where book one ended: the remaining Iron Wolves have saved the Kingdom of Vagandrak from Orlana the Changer and her vile mud orcs and inhuman "splice" only to be arrested and sentenced to death by mad King Yoon. Now, they must not only find a way to save their sorry assess from the hangman’s noose but also, somehow, escape the impregnable fortress in the Pass of Splintered Bones. And even if they succeed in doing those things, none of them are prepared for what awaits them back home. For Orlana’s coming has awoken another enemy: the Elf Rats. These twisted denizens of the toxic land far to the north have returned to their ancient homeland, determined to avenge themselves on their ancient tormenters and wipe the scourge of mankind from Vagandrak!

From this great beginning, Mr. Remic weaves a grimdark story that actually spends a great deal of time on the characterization of the individual members of the Iron Wolves. The Captain of the Wolves, KiKi, has her early years and unusual childhood explored. Dek the Pit Fighter opens up about his family. Narnok of the Axe begins dealing with his wife’s betrayal and his vile torture. Trista the Serial Killer turns into more than a murdering ice princess. Even Prince Zastarte exorcizes his demons to an extent and explains how he had been lead down the path to serial killing. Not that any of these epiphanies by the Wolves washes them white as snow or changes their inherent evilness, but at least, Mr. Remic begins to explore the why of their insanity. That, in and of itself, made the characters more real and compelling to me.

 

Another thing that Mr. Remic does a good job of doing is actually giving readers a less over-the-top villain. The Iron Wolves really suffered, in my opinion, from the fact that Orlana the Changer was so evil, so ridiculously inhuman that all her actions seemed surreal. Here, though, the author finds the right balance between vile and fantastical with the Elf Rats. Sure, they are genocidal monsters, but their reasons for being such are clearly articulated, allowing a reader to understand why they hate the humans of Vagandrak so much and what they hope to gain from their behavior. Perhaps that doesn’t seem very praise worthy, but after book one, I thoroughly enjoyed knowing exactly why the bad guys were killing everyone.

 

With all that being said, I want to assure grimdark lovers that even with Mr. Remic spending more time of characterization and explanation The White Towers is still a blood spattering grimdark fantasy. There are pages and pages of gory atrocities, fierce battles, and monstrous genocide. Sex also plays a major role here, and more than a few of our heroes are bi-sexual, which leads to several uncomfortable moments when the less open-minded members of the group discover this. So if you loved The Iron Wolves or just are overdue for a hit of grimdark, pick this one up, but make sure you have a clean rag to wipe all the blood off your face as you read it.

 

I received this book from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank Netgalley and Angry Robot Books for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.

Source: bookwraiths.com/2014/08/12/the-white-towers-the-rage-of-kings-book-2-by-andy-remic
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review 2014-04-20 19:02
Grimdark for the Grimdark Fantasy Fanatic
The Iron Wolves - Andy Remic

The Iron Wolves is the latest addition to the "grimdark" wave of fantasy that is taking over the shelves these days. These novels are bloodier, grittier and supposedly more "realistic" than the epic fantasy of the past with characters that are either morally ambivalent or just plain sadistic. While that sounds either exciting or disturbing based upon your viewpoint, these tropes of grimdark are not necessarily good or bad by themselves; the ability of the writer to take these elements and weave them into a coherent, gripping tale is still what matters the most, as it always has with any novel. That is why for every excellent examples of stunning grimdark fantasy penned by authors such as Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence there is a grimdark book that has splashed blood across the pages yet been abject failures. As for The Iron Wolves, it is not a masterpiece of the genre but is far from its worst representative.

 

The story itself focuses on the surviving members of the Iron Wolves. Twenty years or so ago, the Kingdom of Vagandrak was invaded by Morkagoth, an evil sorcerer, and his army of monstrous mud-orcs. The only thing that saved the land was the Iron Wolves, who held back the man-eating hordes at the Pass of Splintered Bones and somehow banished Morkagoth from the world. The surviving Wolves became heroes. Their names revered by all the people. Epic tales of their heroic stand sung around the land. And off into the glorious sunset our heroes rode with their duly earned rewards of gold, titles of nobility, and a life of well-earned peace, far away from the world of violence that they had been forced to endure.

 

But things are never quite that simple in the real world. A man and woman’s life does not end when the story says "And they lived happily ever after." No, the brutal truth is that one chapter of life might have closed but another is just beginning. And that was true of the Iron Wolves after the applause from their victory subsided. They were now heroes: adored, honored, and richer than before Morkagoth defeat, but they were still the same messed up people inside. In fact, they were even worse than before; their deficiencies magnified by the scars from the brutal conflict they had barely survived. And while the average person in Vagandrak might believe them heroes, the Wolves knew themselves unworthy of the adoration. For this new persona of nobility and riches was just a lie. Inside, each of the Wolves was broken, cursed even, and soon, their vicious natures returned, leading one to seek solace in drugs while another sought bloody joy in the fighting pit and yet another turned to killing innocents.

 

Now, however, these fallen heroes are man’s only salvation from a horrendous evil. For something even worse than banished Morkagoth has arisen. A sadistic creature who has reawakened the mud-orcs and is determined to annihilate the race of men, as it seeks to obtain some unknown goal. To make matters worse, the throne of Vagandrak is now occupied by a madman. A mighty warrior who was once widely loved but who has succumbed to insanity, bowing down to his most decadent vices and refusing to acknowledge any danger to his realm while callously murdering anyone who dares to speaks out against his unwise practices. Thus, one old warrior, General Dalgoran, determines to reunite his legendary Iron Wolves, to rid them of their vices, and lead them once more in valiant defense of the realm against the vile mud-orcs and their master.

 

And so the epic tale begins!

 

Without question, the story that Andy Remic weaves from this intriguing beginning is a well written and gore packed grimdark fantasy. It’s full of action, keeps the fighting coming nearly every page, and does not skimp on the blood. The characters are unique, flawed, and some are beyond disgusting and best described as sadistic. Not only that but Mr. Remic has seen fit to let these men, women and monsters play out their bloodstained games in an interesting world, populated by intriguing peoples, and filled with wonderful tidbits of lore that hint at even greater mysteries awaiting revelations. Unfortunately, in my opinion, Mr. Remic took some of the standard tropes of grimdark a bit too far in this novel. Allow me to explain.

 

All stories have to have a good guy and bad guy. It is just a requirement. Every reader needs someone to empathize with and cheer for throughout the story. Otherwise, there is no reason to sit down and read page after page of a novel where you hate everyone. Whether the "hero" is someone like the honorable Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings or the psychopathic Jorg Ancrath in The Broken Throne doesn’t matter. There just needs to be someone whom the reader wants to see overcome obstacles and triumph. In this novel, Mr. Remic’s "good guys" are the Iron Wolves: a group of warriors who are drug addicts, pit fighters, serial torturers, and serial killers. Naturally, each of the Wolves has their justifications for their inhumane behavior, but unfortunately, no matter all Mr. Remic’s storytelling skill, none of the reasons put forward by the Wolves is good enough to remove the taint from their worthless hides. I mean, even Jorg in Prince of Thorns had his mother and brother tortured and killed before his eyes to explain his psychotic break, but in The Iron Wolves, the "good guys" throw out shallow excuses for their sadistic nature with things like "I kill those in love because love never lasts – except in death" or "I torture and kill rich people’s children because they live off the poor" or other less than compelling explanations. Honestly, there is not a decent person in this whole bunch except General Dalgoran, who spends a great deal of time agreeing with my assessment of his Wolves and telling them what absolutely worthless specimens of humanity they all are.

 

To attempt to correct this problem with the story having such unlikable protagonist, Mr. Remic took the only option open to him; he created the most sadistic, monstrous villain that he could concoct: Orlana the Changer. This strange, inhuman villainess is naturally a sexually alluring female, sadistic in both her outlook on life and her appetites. To call her cold, cruel, and cunning is not to adequately describe her, for she is quite frankly evil embodied in human form. One minute, she will be coldly "splicing" men and animals together, birthing out of their immeasurable agony monsters consumed with a blood lust for human flesh, and the next she will be satiating her sexual appetite on a man slave, literally eating him alive as she spread her taint within him. But every active villainess needs sustenance, and so Orlana will take time away from her annihilation of humanity to casually impale a woman from anus to mouth before roasting her over a slow fire and forcing her latest man slave to partake of the cooked flesh of his former wife. Once done with lunch, Orlana will then feel fit enough to continue feeding whole populations to the "mud-pits" to produce more vile mud-orcs who also crave human flesh for sustenance. Honestly, Orlana the Changers evil is so ghastly, so horrid that compared to her a reader has to prefer the drug dealing, pit fighting, child torturing, and serial killing of the Iron Wolves, right?

 

Perhaps some of you will feel exactly that way. I, for one, found Orlana the Changer’s evil so over-the-top, so otherworldly and so unrealistic that it did not really matter to me. Sure, it disturbed me, made me skim a bit to skip over the next wife kabob, but overall, I quickly became numb to the next horror she unleashed upon humanity. However, the very realistic and sadistic nature of the books "grimdark heroes" were difficult for me to swallow, and I felt morally dirty for even routing for them, like I was somehow accepting their crimes against their fellow men, women, and children.

 

With all that being said, I cannot deny that The Iron Wolves was a real page turner. Mr. Remic is a wonderful writer, and here he has delivered a grimdark lovers fantasy: no-holds-barred violence, sex, and death in page after page of blood-soaked action. There is so much of the later that many a time I reached for a towel to wipe the blood splatter from my own face. So if you are overdue for a grimdark gore-fest, then pick this one up. Just make sure you have a strong stomach and are not eating shish kabobs when you read this one.

 

I received this book from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank Netgalley and Angry Robot Books for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.

Source: bookwraiths.com/2014/04/20/the-iron-wolves-by-andy-remic
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review 2013-12-23 00:00
The Iron Wolves: Book 1 of The Rage of Kings
The Iron Wolves - Andy Remic Holy crap, but The Iron Wolves was a hell of a lot of fun! It's as if Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber reached out from beyond the grave to collaborate on the kind pulp fantasy they perfected, decided to take Stallone's The Expendables as their inspiration, recruited Sam Raimi to direct the medieval mayhem, and then demanded that nothing short of the explicit, unrated director's cut make it into print.

What Andy Remic has pulled together here is absolutely genius. If you've read the cover blurb then you have some idea of what to expect but, like me, you probably wondered if he really could pull it off. Well, I am here to tell you to wonder no longer - pull it off he does . . . and then some!

Let's start with the heroes . . . such as they are. Thirty years ago, the Iron Wolves became the stuff of legends, holding back the hordes of monstrous mud-orcs at the Pass of Splintered Bones, and banishing Morkagoth, the evil sorcerer, from their world. That victory did not come without a price, however, and the curse they carry has left them broken and battered . . . tortured and twisted beyond measure - murderous brothers, a whoremaster, a drunken gambler, a drug addict with a cancer in her heart, a serial killer, and a torturer. They've become ugly heroes, scarred both inside and out, but they are the world's only help.

“I need it,” she said, and raised her eyes to Dalgoran’s. The pity in his gaze nearly floored her. She considered that pity. From the greatest man she had ever known. From somebody she considered not just her general, but also her friend. Not just her friend, but her father. She shouldn’t have responded how she did. Instead, she felt her anger building.

If that sounds like a little much for your tastes, then all I can do is urge you to have patience. Remic puts a lot of effort into developing these characters, and there is no denying how darkly fascinating they become, or how carefully they elicit our sympathy. Seriously, you might expect to be cold and jaded by the time you meet up with Trista, the last of the Wolves to make a return, but there's such sorrow there, and such beautifully tortured motives behind her serial murder of newlyweds, that you can't help but feel for her. While much of the allure of these heroes is in just how far they've fallen, it's their camaraderie, their banter, and the core of heroism within each of them that really draws the reader in.

As for the villainess, Orlana the Changer, let me give you a glimpse into her summoning:

It was death. It was birth. It was fire. It was rape. It was exquisite murder. It was cheerful suicide. It was acid in her veins. Poison in her heart. Sulphur in her soul. A sincere abortion. A child’s coffin. An army of necrotic lovers. A giggling genocide. All of those things, and yet none.

As weirdly bizarre and perverse as that sounds, it's only an introduction. This is a stunningly beautiful sorceress, the kind who really evokes memories of Howard and Leiber. She's cold, cruel, and cunning, with absolutely no regard for anything but her own motivations. Not content to have the hordes of resurrected mud-orcs at her command (monstrous creatures she summons from the pits with the sacrifice of tens of thousands of men, women, and children), she is also the mistress of the splice - even more monstrous creatures formed by the imperfect, deliberately tortured splicing together of men and beasts.

Their smell came first; it was rotten eggs, it was bad milk, it was sour cheese, it was open gangrene, it was the maggot-filled corpse of a strangled cat. Putrefaction washed over the group and they gagged, and then the mud-orcs sprinted from the darkness and they were big, and moved with agility and aggression and no fear…

In terms of world-building, there's a lot hinted at and suggested here, but Remic never weighs down the story with too much extraneous detail. What settings he does indulge in, however, are exquisitely described. Rokroth is a city where you can feel the cobblestones and smell the smoke in the air; the Tower of the Moon will leave you with a feeling of vertigo, and a nauseous terror of its insane king; Skell Fortress is a haunted ruin that will chill your bones; the Splintered Pass and Desekra Fortress are as epic as any castle, wall, or final siege you can imagine, and the Suicide Forest is . . .well . . . chilling.

They scrambled up the soil and leaves, and stood, mouths open, eyes wide, staring out at a massive glade of hanging corpses. There were perhaps seventy or eighty bodies, each hung by their own hand on short tattered ropes, wearing a disarray of clothing, dresses and shirts and trews, some in boots, some barefoot, all crusted with mud and dirt, as if they’d been hanging for years. Poppies grew all around the glade, adding bright red clusters to a very sombre place.

The story moves along at an almost frantic pace, introducing the Iron Wolves, reuniting them, and seeing them into battle by the end. Along the way we see Orlana overwhelm, overpower, and overcome every obstacle in her path, with the seduction of one man possibly her darkest act. We watch as a insane king refuses to protect his realm, gleefully murdering anybody who dares speak out against him, all the while indulging himself in the most decadent vices.

Yoon returned to the wide bed, sword dripping a trail of blood across fine rugs, to where the three oiled ladies had halted their drug-infused ecstasy. Yoon waved the blade. “Continue. And you.” He pointed with the bloody weapon at a shocked, oiled, painted lady. “Open your legs. Open them wide. I need some entertainment.”

Most importantly, perhaps, we bear witness to the kind of brutal, poetic violence that only epic fantasy seems to manage so well. Remic weaves the dance of blades better than most, delivering on some very well-choreographed confrontations, both intimate and on a grand scale. There's a lot of blood and filth in his tale, and more than a few deaths along the way that come as something of a surprise. By the time it all comes to an end, we realize that only a fraction of the tale has been told, and that motivations and end-games have yet to be revealed . . . but we're also left wondering what might possibly be next, with an ominous cliffhanger that works precisely because there are no guarantees in his world.

All-in-all, one of the most enjoyable reads I've had all year. If you don't mind your epic fantasy with a little pulp and a little profanity, and can appreciate the redemption of deeply flawed heroes, then I strongly urge you to give it a read. It is dark and grim, muddy and bloody, but it's also permeated by a very dark sort of humour that pulls it all together, making the read a raucous one. My only complaint about The Iron Wolves is that the sequel, The White Towers, is more than seven months away . . .


Originally reviewed at Beauty in Ruins
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