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Monday, May 4, 2015

GUEST REVIEW: Sword Of The North by Luke Scull (Reviewed by Steff "Mogsy" Sheung)

Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Grim Company
Read Mogsy's review of The Grim Company
Order Sword Of The North HERE (US) and HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic Interview with Luke Scull
Read "From Zero To Hero: A Tale Of True Grit (Or how I got a book deal)" by Luke Scull

INTRODUCTION: One of the blogs I follow regularly is The Bibliosanctum and Steff (Mogsy) is one of the main reviewers over there. Her review style and choice in books is something that I’ve really enjoyed. So recently she and I came up with this terrific idea to do a review swap for one of the most anticipated titles of 2015. My thanks to Steff for agreeing to participate in this fun experiment and you can read ahead to find out her thoughts on Luke Scull’s Sword Of The North and then tomorrow head over to The Bibliosanctum to read mine.

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.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: It is the Age of Ruin, a time in desperate need of heroes. But heroes are in short supply. The only candidates - a motley company at best - are scattered to the four winds.

Former rebel Sasha has now become an unwilling envoy between the powerful. Eremul the Halfmage languishes in disgrace, his warnings of approaching war falling on deaf ears. Yllandris, sorceress of the High Fangs, servant to a demon lord, has become that which she most despises. Davarus Cole, assassin of the immortal, lies on the brink of death. The legendary champion Brodar Kayne carves a bloody path towards his enemy of old in search of the woman he thought dead...

In this, the second blistering installment of Luke Scull's critically acclaimed trilogy THE GRIM COMPANY, past and present collide, plunging the Age of Ruin further into darkness...

FORMAT/INFO: Sword Of The North is 448 pages long, divided over forty-eight titled chapters. Narration is in the third-person primarily via Davarus Cole, Brodar Kayne, Yllandris, Sasha, Eremul and Sir Meredith. This book is the second volume of the The Grim Company Trilogy.

December 10, 2014 marked the publication of the UK e-book edition of Sword Of The North by Head Of Zeus and the hardback was previously released on March 12, 2015. The book will be published in the US on May 5, 2015 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!

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Of the many fantasy sequels coming out this year, Luke Scull’s Sword of the North is high on my anticipated list. The follow-up to the hit that was The Grim Company, this second book continues with a story teeming with fantastic characters, a strong plot, and plenty of action.

In the first book we met Brodar Kayne, a hero from the cold reaches whose battle prowess and skill with a blade earned him the title Sword of the North. Together with a band of ragtag outcasts, he and his companion Jerek the Wolf were able to survive the chaos that reigned after the White Lady declared victory and succeeded the tyrant Salazar. However, their new ruler has proven not to be as benevolent as she claimed. Something feels rotten at the heart of the city as dissidents are captured or disappeared, but if the White Lady cannot be convinced of the new danger threatening Dorminia, the state of things are sure to go from bad to worse.

Our grim company is broken now, the characters scattered across the land to pursue their own personal quests. Amidst dark tidings about the Shaman and demon hordes in the High Fangs, Brodar and Jerek begin their journey back to their homeland in light of new revelations about Brodar’s family. Weakened and injured from the ordeal at the end of book one, Davarus Cole wakes up in a labor camp and immediately finds himself put to work, but deep inside he is a changed man, no longer the puffed-up blowhard he once was. Sasha grieves, believing Cole lost to her, and falls back into her drug addiction even as she travels with her slightly unhinged sister Ambryl to bring news to the White Lady. And last but certainly not least, there is Eremul the Halfmage who continues his investigation into the race of immortals known as the Fade. Who are these mysterious creatures? And what do they want?

Make no mistake, the characters are the highlight of this series. It’s difficult for me to single out any favorites, because they are all so well written, deeply developed and memorable in their own way. I don’t know how Luke Scull does it, but even when his characters are dastardly and unlikeable, they’re great. Take for example, the chapters featuring Sir Meredith and his misguided notions of honor. I found them a pleasure to read, if for no other reason because you know it’ll feel so good when the cruel “knight” finally gets what he deserves.

I also believe much of the characters’ strength comes from their all-too-human flaws, which are nonetheless balanced by admirable virtues…well, in most cases anyway. Even Jerek who is as crass as ever can be lovable in his own way, because one would think nothing can shake the old Wolf’s loyalty to his friends. It’s what makes one significant plot development late in the novel so heart-wrenching. When it comes to plot elements that cut deeply, there’s also Sasha and her hopeless cycle of abstaining from the moon dust only to fall off the wagon again and again.

Scull has this way of getting you right into the heads of his characters, and Sasha’s struggle with the drug is one instance where the storytelling really closes in at a more intimate level. It’s all about personal stories, and nothing can be more personal than the flashbacks to Brodar Kayne’s past. These chapters were excellent, giving insight into our rough and tough protagonist, especially with the way they were interspersed with his present perspective. The company may be no more, most of its members separated, but in the process we’ve actually been given some great opportunities to further explore each character.

I was also surprised that for a heavy book containing such abundant themes and trappings of grimdark, Sword of the North was a relatively smooth, breezy read. It’s helped by the strong thread of wry humor woven through the story as well as the straight forward prose and dialogue, which at times featured language that bordered on modern-sounding. It’s not all gloom and doom despite the action and brutal violence, and actually managed to pull quite a few laughs out of me too.

As for flaws, I can’t think of many at all. Sword of the North is the middle book of a planned trilogy, and there are a lot of plot threads to follow so you can expect a slight slowdown in some of them while we gear up for the finale. On the whole, I found this to be the case with Davarus Cole as well as Eremul’s chapters. That’s not to say they were boring; on the contrary, there’s a lot of development happening there. But in terms of pacing, they were no match for Brodar Kayne’s action-filled chapters. Practically every other scene featured Brodar and his companions sticking a sword in something’s face, whether they be bandits, the risen undead, or poop-flinging barbarians. There were a couple new plot elements inserted into that storyline that felt a bit awkward though, such as a certain character from the Jade Isles who joins Brodar and his party late in the book. I think Scull may be setting up some game changers for book three, but the introduction of this character still seemed quite sudden and random. I guess we’ll see if it pays off in the next installment, but something tells me the author knows what he’s doing.

CONCLUSION: All told, this book was very enjoyable. Speaking of the next installment, I absolutely cannot wait for the third and final volume of this trilogy. If the first and second books are any indication, the finale is going to be well worth it. In Sword of the North, Luke Scull delivered a truly stellar sequel.


GUEST REVIEWER INFO: Also known by her handle "Mogsy" on her blogs and on Twitter, Stephenie Sheung is a contributor at The BiblioSanctum, a book review site for speculative fiction and graphic novels. A freelance artist by trade, you can often find her at work with an audiobook in her ears or sneaking in breaks with her nose in a fantasy novel.

When she's not lost in fictional worlds, she likes to play video games, try out new recipes, crochet stuffed animals, and spend time with her husband and their two little daughters. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she now lives in the US with her family and a couple of hyperactive Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.


Molly Mortensen said...

Sounds like the author really likes to torture his characters! I like epic fantasys when almost all of the characters start out together. I'm glad to hear that it's not all downer either. I enjoy witty books. Nice review. :)

Tammy Sparks said...

This is definitely a series I need to consider, everyone seems to really enjoy it. Loved the "double review":-D

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