Sword of the North by Luke Scull
|Book Name:||Sword of the North|
|Publisher(s):||Roc (US) Head of Zeus (UK)|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Ebook|
|Release Date:||May 5, 2015 (US) March 12, 2015 (UK)|
This is definitely some high quality grimdark, with a brilliant cast of flawed and complex protagonists that you cannot help but become invested in.
The major story careens between Brodar Kayne, Davarus Cole, Sasha and Eremul the Halfmage whilst also flirting with the tale of how Brodar met Jerek, the Wolf and earned his name forty some years before. This secondary tale gradually catches up to the current story and provides some of the most poignant and heartfelt moments I’ve ever encountered in the genre.
Cole is recovering from not just his physical wounds but some deeply scarring mental ones as well. He is not the hero he was told he was and sees no way of becoming the one he feels he should have been. Brodar continues to go on about his knees, although now we know why, and he along with Jerek, find themselves battling all sorts of classic fantasy creatures, while protecting a boy who is destined to change the future. We get some glorious fighting scenes with this crew and a couple of very fast paced action sequences that get the heart pumping. Whilst Cole was my favourite character in the first book Jerek and Brodar had me all the way in this one, and by the end, surprisingly, Jerek had taken the mantle.
The Halfmage is wonderful. He carries with him a god like reputation but almost none of the skills to back it up. His elevation has brought him all the failings of fame but few of the trappings with the poor and the many constantly badgering him for an uplifting word or spells for protection whilst he himself wonders what he did to deserve it all. One moment of his sums up the tone of the humour in the book particularly well.
As he made his way through habourside alleys teaming with the poor and starving he wondered what had become of the two sisters he had sent to Thelassa. They should have returned long before now. He’d not heard so much as a peep. It was just like the time he’d sent the small band to the Wailing Rift, he reflected. It was almost as his quests weren’t being treated with the gravitas they deserved. After all, in the bad works of fiction he kept hidden in his depository, if a stern faced wizard arrived bearing tales of impending disaster, the chosen one bloody well did what was asked of them. They didn’t pocket the coin he has handed them and quietly bugger off Creator-knows where.
There is an undercurrent of cheekiness that is well used to in these odd moments of light and laughter, as long as you have a slightly dark sense of humour. Another example is after a particularly stirring speech by a wizard to motivate the men around him several inspired chaps step forward and there is always the chance that one guy will ruin it for everybody and this is captured so perfectly I need to share. I have changed some names as to Bob and Steve to avoid any spoilers
‘I lost a good friend back there. I haven’t got a family of my own, but Bob did. I owe it to him to get revenge on that bitch.’
That won a fresh round of cheers. Another Thelassan stepped forward. ‘Bob was my friend too. The White lady’s got to pay for what she’s done” She’s got to pay!’
More cheers roared across the dock. A consensus was beginning to form, the anger of the crowd turning it towards a singular purpose, a singular path of action.
Suddenly Smokes stepped forward. ‘I’ll burn the fucking city to the ground!’ he snarled. ‘And every man, women and child in it!’
The sound of someone clearing their throat was the only noise to break the silence that followed. ‘For what she’s done!’ Smokes added belatedly. He looked around, desperate for someone to back him up.
‘That seems a little…..extreme,’ Steve said slowly. ‘Besides, the city is constructed from marble. It’ll never catch fire, Especially not in this weather.’
Smokes sagged and a moment later shuffled shamefacedly back into the crowd, which now looked rather deflated.
Ambryl and Sasha, the two sisters, have an interesting journey. Sent to bring news of a new enemy to the White lady, Ambryl goes from deadly assassin to possible religious convert. Sasha meanwhile is struggling with it being 4.20 all the time. Orgy in the middle of the street 4.20, riding on a boat 4.20, basically she’s either in rehab or it’s 4.20. Like a panicked child it was an interesting counterpart to her changed sister and a nice twist on where I thought it would go. The theme of drug abuse is not only explored on a personal level but on a societal level as well when it become clear people are being manipulated nationwide by a ruler eager to keep her people in a stupor. Sasha gets one of if not the best line in the entire book as well.
Sir Meredith deserves a mention as one of the most fearsome creations I’ve ever had in my mind. A broken man, covered in armour, who believes with the passion of a zealot that he is a knight but displays none of the moral or ethical strength needed to be one. He’ll kill a women he was saving if he says a hint of mirth her eyes when she’s hears his effeminate name.
There is a bit of language warning on this one but to be honest I love it. When some c#%t is behaving like an absolute c#%t you just have to call them out and say ‘Oi you’re a c$%t’ and Luke does this well. I don’t want to disparage the creation of new and interesting words that works as swears but the real ones work the best. It does nothing to me in terms of removing me from the world, after all everything else they say is in modern English, and actually draws me into the universe. In a world of swords, wizards, monsters and murder calling someone a piece of shit is actually pretty relatable.
The Grim Company was more than enough to convince me Luke Skull is an accomplished wordsmith but in this second book there is an improvement on an already stellar writing style. In book one Luke took us in the minds of a few major characters to great effect, in the Sword of the North we see how the actions of the previous book have affected not only our protagonists but also every member of the world he is created. From the heights of the usurping politicians and future rulers to the lows of the maligned merchants and the scrambling underfoot peasants we get a feel for the individual as well as the whole and it helps craft a remarkable world where every action has visible ripples of consequence. He wields humour brilliantly and keeps the edge between dark and light so keen it is possible to feel hope in the darkest situations whilst also sensing impending doom any time something is going well.
Overall Sword of the North is a marvellous book and one for all fans of fantasy and especially lovers of grimdark. It has just about everything you could want in a second book.