(This is a repost of my review that appeared on SF Signal recently - reposted here for posterity)
Publisher: Angry Robot (September 3, 2009)
Kell is a retired warrior of legend, suffering from arthritis and the sluggishness of age, until a bloodthirsty army descends upon his town to lay destruction. He takes up his dreaded butterfly axe named: Ilanna, to do battle. Fleeing an enemy that proves too strong, Kell sets out with some lone survivors, on a journey that becomes nearly forgotten amidst an onslaught of horror and bloodshed that unfolds in their path.
Remic pulls out all the stops to make sure that his characters are challenged. At times you may wonder if he is going down a checklist of torturous torments to visit upon these hapless souls, fleeing for their lives.
For those of iron composure, forging forward anyway, plotlines are often chopped short—bereft of the space they needed to breathe. Some may point to this being a good way to move the story forward without bogging it down, but every climactic moment needs time to build and a moment of silence to appreciate it in full.
Amazingly, the story can be very narrow, despite an invading army and widespread bloodshed. The reader is confined to a small space and just a couple characters for much of the book. The fact that there is a larger conflict going on all around seems to be forgotten and has to be periodically reminded to the characters and the reader.
Inconsistencies crop up, with Kell’s single true flaw of age talked up as a problem and then proven time and time again to be mere window dressing. Saark’s selfish, hedonistic character was one of the few that seemed to hold true and had the best character arc. The side character of Anukis, with her repugnant suitor Vashell were perhaps the most irritating. Yes, they explain more of the enemy Vachine, and there are probably more important things to come for Anu, but her storyline is so mired in needless conflict that the impact was mostly lost.
Vashell was both horrible, wonderful and crazily erratic. I can see what Remic was trying to do, but I don’t think it came across. To be fair, it was an odious task to create one so incredibly conflicted. I wish it had worked. Why Anukis ever gave into him at all is a wonder, and to see her sister turned as well—that was just ridiculous.
The Vachine race was interesting, but I couldn’t help but wonder at the clockwork inclusion. It seemed a bit of a stretch and too arbitrary, at times, to truly be a part of the story; as if it were thrown in as an afterthought. I accepted it, but often wondered: Is that really possible? I think Remic brought it all together, later in the story, to make a broader, greater, relevance; but it was less of an “Ah, hah!” moment and more: about time. The same was true for the blood-oil drinking. I wanted to see the purpose, I wanted to see how this gruesome concoction was made, and I just wanted to know...more. Maybe this is a good thing, especially if the next book in the series delivers. Or, perhaps I’m too inquisitive...
I’ve heard that Remic’s writing is reminiscent of his hero David Gemmel. I don’t know, because I haven’t read any of Gemmel’s work (I know. Fifty lashes for me), but he may be channeling a little of George R.R. Martin’s special kind of talent. Characters die and go through trials that, I have to admit, I assumed they would have been free of. This ruthlessness is one of the high points of the book as it keeps the reader guessing.
My biggest qualm is what becomes one of the biggest subplots of the book about two-thirds of the way through, when a random appearance of some unruly bandits introduces a problem that requires Kell’s attention. The amount of foresight that goes into this random occurrence by the bandits jumps well past the border of reason. These characters were planted without the necessary foreshadowing necessary to make it work and all it seems to be is an anti deus ex machina to up the plot conflict, instead of solving it, and left me with a foul taste.
Would I recommend this book? Ultimately...yes, for one interested in war, monsters and conflict, that doesn’t mind a healthy dose of blood, guts and sex covering the whole thing in a viscous mess. I’d give it 3.5 stars, as a book with promise, excitement and something deeper, that just needed a little more time to shine.
Disclosure: this book was provided from the envious collection of “Books Received” by the SF Signal. Thanks Denardo! A free book is not an e-book, but it is as light in the wallet as an e-book is in the hands. This was also the British version, so I got a lot more “s’s” than the “z’s” I’m used to and a heavy helping of “arse”. Would an American version have made a difference? Nah...I don’t think so, as a fantasy piece, it was a simple thing to excuse the variations as a part of the language of the world.
What did you think?