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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Grim Company by Luke Scull (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE
Enter to win a fantastic art piece by Larry Rostant based on the book (see image below)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Luke Scull was born in Bristol and has lived most of his life in the British Isles. Luke also designs computer roleplaying games and has worked on several acclaimed titles for Ossian Studios and Bioware. Luke began his career, as a hobbyist game designer, who was selected by Bioware as one of his modifications to Neverwinter Nights, became a hit. Since then he has worked as designer on the Neverwinter expansion, Mysteries of Westgate, and an unreleased expansion for The Witcher role-playing game. He currently lives in Warminster with his wife and this is debut.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: The grey granite walls of Dorminia rise to three times the height of a man, surrounding the city on all sides save for the south, where the Broken Sea begins. The stone is three-foot thick at its weakest point and can withstand all but the heaviest assault. The Crimson Watch patrol the streets even as Salazar's Mindhawks patrol the skies.

The Grey City was not always so. But something has changed. Something has broken at its heart. Perhaps the wild magic of the dead Gods has corrupted Dorminia's Magelord, as it has the earth itself. Or perhaps this iron-fisted tyranny is the consequence of a lifetime of dark deeds...

Still, pockets of resistance remain. When two formidable Highlanders save the life of a young rebel, it proves the foundation for an unlikely fellowship. A fellowship united against tyranny, but composed of self-righteous outlaws, crippled turncoats and amoral mercenaries. A grim company. But with the world entering an Age of Ruin, this is not a time of heroes...

FORMAT/INFO: The Grim Company is 464 pages long, divided over forty-one titled chapters. Narration is in the third-person primarily via Davarus Cole, Brodar Kayne, Yllandris, Sasha and Tarn. This book is the first volume of the The Grim Company Trilogy. UK cover art is provided by Larry Rostant.

March 1, 2013 marked the publication of the UK Hardback edition of The Grim Company by Head Of Zeus and the e-book was previously released on February 1, 2013. The book will be published in the US in September 2013 by Ace-Roc books.

CLASSIFICATION: The Grim Company series is a dark epic fantasy series that can be best summed up as Joe Abercrombie's grim wit & gritty characterization meets James Clemens' Godslayer Chronicles!


ANALYSIS: The Grim Company is Luke Scull’s debut title and Head Of Zeus secured it for a six-figure sum. Stefan alerted me to the book’s existence over at Civilian Reader. With an ever-intriguing blurb and terrific Spartan cover art, I contacted HOZ for a review copy to which they gladly obliged. I read it on a weekend while stuck at Minneapolis airport and those 7-8 hours were spent reading this book cover to cover. I was thoroughly entranced by it and I think Luke is going to be another British phenomenon like a certain editor-turned fantasy writer nearly seven years ago.

The story begins with a prologue event that is mentioned in the story rather scarcely but plays a very important role in the eventual build-up of the story and its main plot points. We are introduced to Davarus Cole, self-thought hero, fledgling revolutionary and a narcissistic fool all rolled into one. Davarus believes himself to be a hero destined for greatness as was his father Ilarius Cole and he has a special dagger to fulfill his destiny as well. Brodar Kayne is a barbarian from the High Fangs in the North fleeing his homeland for reasons revealed later in the story. He’s a formidable swordsman that is accompanied by a surly twin-axed warrior who goes by Jerek the Wolf. Both these Northmen are reputed warriors and will soon be caught up in destiny’s claws. Yllandris is a sorceress and concubine to Magnar, king of the High Fangs whose hunger for power will see her scale all opposition both mental and magical.

Then there’s Eremul the legless wizard who’s cruelly but rather aptly titled Half-mage. He resides in Dorminia trying to live as decent a life possible given his circumstances. Few know of the hatred that powers him and fewer still know his true intentions. Then there’s Barandas, Supreme Augmentor and Salazar’s most trusted warrior who lives as honorable a life possible among scum and is the lone lotus in a pool of mud. Lastly there is Sasha who is from the same group that Davarus belongs to but is more devious than Davarus will ever be. There are a few other characters that are given the spotlight in minor amounts but this is the main character cast. Lastly there’s the world itself, which bears explanation, as its also equally vital as one the POV characters.

Here’s the gist of the magic system and the world history. Precisely five hundred years ago, a score of wizards invaded the realm of the Gods and tried to defeat them. Amid this brazen attempt only thirty-odd returned and were heralded as MageLords who supplanted the godly pantheon they themselves had killed. This Deicide shifted the power onto the humans elevating them to a completely different evolutionary level however the world fell apart in the process and the divine magic is also slowly being depleted. These MageLords fight among themselves to hoard more power and therefore the known world is constantly in a state of flux. Chief to the story are Salazar the ruler of Dorminia, The White Lady  of the City Of Spires and Mithradates the Shaman of the High Fangs, there are others who merit a brief mention but do not come into play in this volume. The main reason for the war between these mages is over the hoarding of crystals that serve as repositories of wild magic.

This is the primary setting of the story and was the biggest draw of the storyline for me. This crumbling world wherein Deicide (I don’t know why but I like that word a lot) occurred and now the Age of Ruin is ascendant, is like manna for world-building geeks. It partly reminded me of the world showcased in the Godslayer Chronicles by James Clemens and like Clemens; Luke Scull gives his own slant to a world wherein the Gods are dead at the hands of their creations. Secondly the characterization is pretty top notch, even though the author uses fantasy stereotypical characters such as aging barbarian, disgruntled low-level mage, handsome fool, and devoted warrior fighting for the wrong cause. He makes these characters their own and while we might find their facsimiles in previous books by fantasy legends such as David Gemmell, Glen Cook & Joe Abercrombie, these characters aren’t diminished in any way by such comparisons. With a rather large character cast, the author competently handles all his characters and gives different viewpoints in the various happening of the story.

The characters are what make this story irresistible as we are given access to characters across the moral spectrum, most of them are grey to begin with but it is even more fun to read about character conflict and moral underpinnings with characters such as Barandas, Eremul, Yllandrius and Brodar Kayne. The author gives us tremendous insight into their thoughts and not to mention several large doses of snarky humor and witty dialogue. This will be the point that will remind a lot of readers of Joe Abercrombie and to a lesser extent even Scott Lynch. Not to repeat comparisons from previous reviews but it’s very easy to say if you like J. Abercrombie's or S. Lynch’s work then this title is a shoo-in for you. That’s no knock on Luke’s writing and plotting skills but a genuine compliment that his debut is refreshing enough to offer his own twists on things while adhering to regular fantasy tropes. Lastly the pace of the book and plot twists definitely aid in the read as the reader is constantly switched from POV characters as well location to give us a panoramic feel to the story. The climax while being as complete as the first volume of a trilogy can be offers enough crumbs to entice the reader for the next volumes.

I didn’t think that there were any negatives to this debut however on an objective note, people tired of gritty storylines and morally grey characters will not find anything to alter their opinions here. Secondly while the author goes for a very grim outlook in his dialogue, some of it just comes across as awkward at a few instances. While this point is certainly subjective for readers, I felt that this could be overlooked as a minor debutante foible. Lastly this debut is very characteristic of “grimdark fantasy” so be forewarned before picking up this debut. However for those thinking on giving this one a pass, know that you would be missing out on one of the best debuts of this year for sure.

CONCLUSION: Luke Scull delivers a fantastic story that is ripe with action, strong characterization and a tight plot. This debut novel will have most readers turning pages as quickly as possible and leave them eager for the sequels. The Grim Company is truly an EPIC fantasy debut that shows all the characteristic strengths of the genre whilst managing to avoid almost all its pitfalls. This is one debut not to be missed and marks Luke Scull as one of epic fantasy’s talented debutants.

NOTE: The Trine art piece done by Larry Rostant and image courtesy of Parmenion Books.

7 comments:

Pabkins said...

I love snarky humor and witty diaologue. Count me in but I must wait til Sept this year? yuuck!
Pabkins @ My Shelf Confessions

Kyle Loechner said...

Who is the editor-turned-author?

The Reader said...


@ Kyle

That would be Jo Abercrombie. He was a film editor previously.

Mihir

The Reader said...


@Pabkins

They have a e-pub sample on the publisher website which is 67% of the book that should tide you over until the book releases here in September or there's alway Book Depository.

Mihir

Sue Bricknell said...

If the dialogue is anything like as brilliant as Scott Lynch's then I will love this title: thanks for giving us the heads up! :)

The Reader said...


@ Sue

I won't say it's as brilliant as Scott Lynch, infact Luke Scull has a long way to go to reach SL's standards however Luke has shown some good potential in this book.

Mihir

Gunnerramma said...

Excited to read this, thanks for the review.

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