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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 2015-09-01 17:28
Great Grimdark Series That You Should Read!!!!!!!
Sword of the North - Luke Scull

As a huge lover of the first book of this series, Sword of the North was a novel I had to get my hands on. The Grim Company had introduced me to a delicious grimdark world populated with so many fantastic characters and filled with loads and loads of gory action that I really needed another fix of Luke Scull’s addictive concoction. And he definitely delivered here.


Grim Company ended with our band of heroes ripped apart after the tyrant Salazar’s defeat by the White Lady. Now, Brodar Kayne (Sword of the North) and his constant companion Jerek are returning to their cold, northern homeland on a desperate quest. Sasha and her lost sister find one another, but also find themselves drifting apart as they discover that the White Lady might be more charlatan than deliverer. The Half-Mage is his ornery self, making cutting observations on the human condition, and still determined to warn everyone that the Fade are on their way back to the world to destroy everyone – even if no one pays him any attention. And then there is Davarus Cole, our would-be hero, who succeeded in his lifelong quest but discovered several truths he would have rather not known, finding himself in desperate circumstances.


From this beginning the plot begins to unfold like an origami masterpiece taking shape; each plot not appearing, but slowly evolving out of what has come before. Each character acting as his nature suggests he would, duly changed by the events in the preceding novel. Each person coming to life before a reader’s eyes, developing into an irreplaceable member of this cast. These people’s all-too-realistic flaws on display for everyone to see, and a few having those faults and mistakes come back to haunt them, destroying relationships that had – until the moment of revelation – seemed permanent and unassailable. Brodar Kayne’s quest and reliving of his past no more compelling or important to the overall story than the new cast members like Sir Meredith and his warped view of honor. Bitter and desperate, addicted and pathetic, every person has their role to play in this grimdark saga, even if it is no more than a reader taking great pleasure in seeing them get exactly what is coming to them.


But never fear action lovers, Mr. Scull has not forgotten that this is a blood and guts fantasy tour de force. Fights, atrocities, drugs, monsters, magical battles, and gruesome deaths fill the pages. Horrible things happen to undeserving victims. Vile villains strut their evil stuff. Abuse and torture are casually inflicted on certain individuals. Blood and gore splash across the pages in places. Yet, in the midst of it all, a few souls rise above the muck to exhibit heroic qualities. Sword of the North is a grimdark in all its gloomy, realistic glory.


Somehow though, Luke Scull is also able to impart a harsh humor to the tale, turning what could have been a depressing narrative into a light, fun read. The unexpected banter of comrades, the cynical observations of the Half-Mage, or the wry comments of a villain lightening the mood, winning a smile, or, occasionally, pulling out a laugh here and there.


What I especially liked was the wonderful world that Luke Scull continues to unveil. This land without gods, slowly deteriorating under the rule of the remaining wizards, and filled with the memories of a world that was before the destruction of the divine is truly developing into a wonderful canvas upon which to paint brilliant tales of daring-do. It might not be Middle-Earth, but it definitely stacks up well with grimdark favorites such as The Broken Empire of Mark Lawrence or The First Law of Joe Abercrombie.


Since I always say no book is without flaws, I suppose I have to point out negatives about Sword of the North, but it really is a hard thing to do, because, for what it is, this novel is nearly perfect. Yet I suppose I could see some readers being turned off by the decidedly horrible events and harsh language that occurs, for there are more than a few bad moments and a lot of cursing. None of this was especially egregious to me; each fitting into the ongoing narrative, not seeming placed there merely for shock value, but some might disagree with me about that.


Honestly, this was one of the best sequels that I’ve come across. Luke Scull deftly moving his original plot forward while introducing new concepts, new characters, and new lore into the organically growing story. To say I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment of this series is not doing justice to my desperate need to get my hands on book three, because I have a feeling it is going to be one hell of a ride!


I received this book from Roc in return for a honest review. The opinion you have read is mine alone and has not been influenced by anyone else.

Source: bookwraiths.com/2015/09/01/sword-of-the-north-by-luke-scull
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text 2015-05-28 18:58
The Grim Company - Luke Scull

When I think of a grimdark novel, what comes to mind is an ultra-violent, amoral, uber realistic story where good guys don’t even finish last . . . they get slaughtered before the race even begins! Something along the lines of this.


Okay, maybe, that isn’t completely fair, but we all know the sub-genre is known for those elements I mentioned above. And when I returned to reading fantasy a few years ago, this “new” fantasy didn’t agree with me at all. So much so that I actually wrote a blog post bemoaning my disillusionment with the whole sub-genre entitled "Why Grimdark Isn’t For Me."

Fast forward a few years. I’ve read more grimdark books. Some I’ve loved. A few I’ve thought were “meh.” Most I’ve thought were entertaining enough. Now, though, I’ve encountered something I never thought possible: A fun grimdark!


Okay, I know that “fun” term sounded sacrilegious. Please, take a deep breath, put the fist down, and sit back in your chair, I will explain everything.

Now, Luke Scull starts The Grim Company out with a proverbial grimdark middle finger. This takes the shape of a whole city being destroyed by magic while it’s terrified citizens can do nothing but stand there waiting for it to happen. A cataclysm that opens this book out in a most shocking and spectacular way.

The pace slows down considerable after this, but instead of a frantic sprint, a reader finds himself in a slow but steady marathon. The world’s delicious history being slowly revealed piece by piece. Characters are introduced, thrown into the mix. Amoral philosophy begins to make its appearance. Fights are bloody, brutal affairs with body parts flying. And the strong aroma of grimdark begins to permeate every page.

As for that world, Scull has dreamed up an epic, grimdark wonderland, fully realized and impeccably unveiled. It is a land mired in the Age of Ruin; a slow death that began five centuries ago when a group of wizards arose during the Age of Strife (An epoch were the world’s religions allied to exterminate all users of magic.) and killed their persecutors and the gods they worshiped.

You heard that right. These sorcerers hunted down and slaughtered every deity known to exist, casting some from heaven itself. All that remains of these divine beings are their slowly decomposing corpses; some of which do not seem to be completely dead yet, but can still be heard moaning as miners tear out their magical flesh and blood to empower the deicidal wizards. For after the Godswar, these “god-like” wizards didn’t go away but carved up the decomposing world into fiefdoms. All humanity shepherded toward the end of everything by the very people who had ushered in the slow death of creation.


While it is implied that many of these deicidal wizards still live, the story here focuses on the struggle between only four of them: Salazar of Dorminia, The White Lady of Thelassa, Marius of Shadowport, and The Shaman of High Fangs. A conflict that revolves more around their need to obtain the last great source of magic in the world rather than any desire to increase their earthly dominions (because, honestly, those are pathetic excuses for the lost civilizations from the past.)

Ensnared in this wizardly conflict is a cast of colorful characters. Davarus Cole is a young man, who has been reared to be a hero in the mold of his deceased father, and into his hands has been placed an ensorcelled weapon that is destined for the heart of Salazar. Plotting beside him at the rebel meetings is an orphan woman named Sasha, who views all men with the disdain that they deserve. Brodar Kayne and Jerek the Wolf enter the tale as highlanders on the run from the minions of the Shaman of High Fangs; men of action who are united together in a strange bond of friendship, even though they are as different as light from day. Far to the north, the sorceress Ylandris dreams and plots to become even greater than the Shaman himself. And in Dorminia, Salazar’s Supreme Augmentor (Augmentors are magically enhanced “super soldiers” of the wizards.) is a man named Barandas; a bastion of goodness and virtue who commits evil, because he believes that “a strong man does what is necessary and not always what is right.” And rounding out this merry cast is Eremul the Halfmage; the last wizard remaining in Salazar’s city, though the price for his escape from the wizard’s magical purge years before were his legs.

With this motley group of people (and a few more minor players) Scull weaves an entertaining grimdark that is two parts amoral, ultra-violent fantasy and one part fun epic adventure. A viciously dark escapade that is somehow fun!

Even the moody, philosophical comments contained in the narrative don’t depress as much as make you laugh at their absurdity, such as when Eremul is counseled “[N]ot to lament the loss of your legs. Instead celebrate the fact they liberated you from the evil you would have otherwise committed — yet by virtue of that simple fact, you possess only half the evil of a man” or will have you nodding along in agreement, as when Eremul observes that “It would seem that men possessing the qualities to serve the city in the highest capacity were difficult to find. Deceitfulness, cowardice, shameless arse-lickery. Why haven’t I been made a magister yet?” Hell, even comments that might offend your sensibilities don’t really irk you . . . too much. For instance, when one character muses that “The difference between a hero and a killer lies only in the ability of the former to justify every dark dead they perform to anyone who cares to listen. Even themselves. Especially themselves” or when another proclaims that the “The longer one lives the more one understands that there is no inherent goodness in the world” they all fit into the overall narrative so snuggly that it doesn’t sound like an author proselytizing but rather the characters coming alive before your eyes and letting you get to know them.

Naturally, there are vicious physical confrontations and dazzling sorcerous displays in The Grim Company. As I mentioned earlier, the beginning of the book begins with a major one. However, it continues from there, albeit at a slower pace, providing enough episodes of blood and guts carelessly scattered across the pages to satisfy even the most ardent grimdark fan. So if that was a major concern of yours, hopefully this news lays such doubts to rest.

By this point, I’m sure you can detect that I really liked this novel. Honestly, it was a nice surprise; one of those times when I was not expecting much and got a lot more than I bargained for — in a good way. Yeah, yeah, I know grimdark isn’t suppose to be labeled “fun,” but I’m just telling the truth here. The Grim Company is a fun grimdark fantasy. Sure, it has all the gory, moody elements of the usual grimdarks out there, but Scull mixed in a wonderfully deep, complex world with a storyline that had enough good, old-fashioned fun to lighten the read, so that it was FUN. Hell, I think even the “Grimdark” Reaper had a smile on his face after finishing this one.


See he is smiling? You don’t see it? Huh, I would have sworn he was smiling.

Source: bookwraiths.com/2015/05/28/the-grim-company-by-luke-scull
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review 2014-10-20 19:53
Scourge of the Betrayer - Jeff Salyards

Scourge of the Betrayer is one of those rare books. A novel that takes the familiar tropes of a particular genre, tweaks them ever so slightly until you (a long time reader) find that your expectations of that genre have been suddenly raised to a new level.


And how did Jeff Salyards do that, you ask?


Well, mainly, he did it by refusing to be confined by the familiar, formulaic pattern of grimdark fantasy. Where most “grims” cover their pages with equal parts gore-coated combat, cynical characters, sexual situations, harsh language, and gritty worlds, Scourge embraces those elements but does not stop with them, adding a layer of realism and attention to detail that elevates this standard “grim” story into a realistic, tour-de-force of fantasy. Indeed, Mr. Salyards creates a world where armor actually does protect you in combat. Where there are no “Chosen Ones” or godlike heroes or all-powerful villains. Where magic is present but not scattered around like motes of dust. Where your favorite character might appear as a “good guy” one moment only to seem a “bad guy” the next. And where anyone, ANYONE can die if plans do not work out or a blow is mistimed or too many foes appear. All things that might sound like normal grim but are so much more in this story.


Mr. Salyards throws readers into his realistic grimdark world from the first page; the first person narrator of the tale being a young man named Arkamandos (or Arki for short.) This youth has just been hired by Captain Braylar Killcoin, leader of a band of Syldoon soldiers, to be their company’s scribe. And while Arki is very wary of his new employers (They are the fiercest, most vicious soldiers in the world), he explains his reason for joining up with them as:


I had no family, or none that had claimed me as such for years, and no friendships of any lasting duration. The promise of being part of something larger than my life—which admittedly, up to this point hadn’t exactly been consequential or noteworthy—was exciting, even if my involvement was restricted to observing and recording. At least it would presumably be something worth setting to parchment for once. And there was no denying the draw to that.


This desire to be part of a grand, epic adventure is exactly why Arki is the perfect narrator for the story that follows, for he is in the exact same shoes as his audience: a spectator completely in the dark as to what is actually going on. For there doesn’t seem to be any dark lord to defeat here or epic war to wage or apocalyptic event to stop – well, not that Arki knows about anyway. Instead, Captain Braylar and his men have their own secret agenda; a plan that they have no intention of willingly sharing with anyone. And so, Arki is left to listen to the conversation of his employers, gather clues as to their intentions, and piece together theories about their motives, goals, and true aims. All the while never knowing if his guesses are anywhere close to accurate.


And as Arki leads readers along on this grand adventure to discover the why of it all, Mr. Salyards carefully uses the interactions between the young scribe and the other characters to slowly sculp vibrant people, not grimdark caricatures of humanity, but real, living, breathing people who gradually come into focus. Don’t be surprised when there are not any long soliloquies where the characters intentionally reveal their inner demons or hidden desires or troubled past to you, because Mr. Salyard does not spoon feed anyone. Instead, he forces you to live day to day along with Arki, reading his interpretations of his traveling companions, his beliefs about their personalities, and his assessment of their actions, making you use the youth’s observations to form your own opinions about these three-dimensional people who surround him.


While this gradual development of plot and characters could have ruined the pacing of the story, it did not do so. For even though the beginning is slow and a tad confusing, Mr. Salyards deftly places clues throughout the narrative, stringing a reader along. Each suspected insight into Braylar’s plans building a little more excitement, each small revelation about his history adding a touch more drama to the tale until you can’t wait to turn the page, hoping to find the next part of the puzzle that Mr. Salyards has so expertly hidden from view.


But this is a grimdark, so where is the bloody combat, you ask?


Oh, it is here. Braylar is a man of action, willing to trade a few humorous slurs with his opponent before wielding his exotic flail to crush their skulls, and his Syldoon are constantly in the thick of the action. Blood and gore coat the pages, especially after the halfway point of the book, with the fighting coming fast and furious (though Arki presents it more from the point of view of a witness than a participant), and always Mr. Salyards deftly crafts these fights with utmost realism. No overpowered godlike warriors here. Even the most experienced fighter only one step away from getting struck down in battle. A fact that makes the fights even more gripping, as you wonder if anyone is safe from the grim reaper in this world.


As you can tell, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and there are lots of further things I’d like to say about the story, but I can’t – to do so would reveal too many spoilers and ruin the fun for you. Perhaps it will suffice for me to write that Scourge of the Betrayer took everything that I love about grimdark, added in a touch of realism, and coupled those things with a slow-developing, character-driven story that made me constantly strive to figure out what was going on. It is quite simply a great fantasy read.


So, with all that being said, I highly recommend this one to grimdark fans, lovers of character-driven stories, fantasy fans, and all those that just adore tales that make you think. Have fun reading!

Source: bookwraiths.com/2014/10/20/scourge-of-the-betrayer-bloosounders-arc-1-by-jeff-salyards
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