The Heresy Within by Rob J. Hayes
|Book Name:||The Heresy Within|
|Author:||Rob J. Hayes|
|Formatt:||Paperback / Ebook|
|Release Date:||October 13, 2014|
A few months ago, I reviewed Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries and Rogues (you can find that review here), and noted that the anthology’s protagonists had a certain moral flexibility that fans of grimdark would certainly enjoy. The best you could say of this collection of miscreants was that a few were thieves. The rest were far worse – assassins, murderers and rapists.
Joe Martin, the anthology’s editor and co-founder of Ragnarok Publications, suggested I try Rob J. Hayes’ The Ties That Bind trilogy, and was kind enough to send me all three books – The Heresy Within, The Color of Vengeance and The Price of Faith. The Heresy Within was all it took to convince me that the cold-blooded villains and cutthroats I was introduced to in the Blackguards anthology were mere amateurs compared to the psychopaths running around in Hayes’ debut novel.
While Hayes populates his world with a full assortment of dastardly supporting characters, the story is built around Thanquil Darkheart, an Arbiter whose job is to chase down witches, heretics and magic users on behalf of the inquisition; Jezzet Vel’um, one of the last remaining blademasters; and The Black Thorn, a thief and murderer who is renowned for killing arbiters (six in total – everyone always forgets about the first one).
Thanquil is arguably the most honorable of the threesome, despite such a severe case of kleptomania that he literally begins shaking when he goes too long without stealing something. Charged by the God-Emperor to discover the traitor within his order, Thanquil is clever, both in conversing with those around him and in utilizing the magical runes that make the arbiters so difficult to kill, but he’s also an enforcer for a religious organization that has no qualms about burning villagers at the stake.
Jezzet Vel’um may be one of the most deadly people alive with a blade in her hand, but as Hayes so eloquently puts it, instead of a “fight or flight” response, she has a “f**k or fight” response. When we first meet her, three bandits try to rob her and she considers offering sex to get out of the situation. Not long after, she successfully offers sex in exchange for protection, brief though it may be. It isn’t until later in the book that we realize just how adept she is at defending herself. Her desperation to avoid violence, no matter how skilled she may be at it, makes her an interesting outlier in a world where almost everyone else seems to be searching for an excuse to draw blood.
Jezzet is a far different character than most women appearing in the fiction I read. Her quickness to resort to sex to get herself out of difficulty makes her easy to judge but difficult to get a bead on. Is she weak or strong for resorting to such tactics? Is this a misogynistic story, or a story about a misogynistic world? Even now, days after finishing the book, I’m unprepared to answer that. My discomfort is probably a good thing – if nothing else, this book and this character were memorable.
Of the three primary characters, Bertrim, aka the Black Thorn, is the most obviously despicable, though I somehow found him my favorite point of view character. Violent and profane, the most infamous murderer in a band full of them, his moral code is built around survival and loyalty, though if you blink you might miss it. His cast of criminal companions provides the book with much of its dark humor, and their view of the world gives us a street-level view of the world Hayes has created.
For a story that seems to revel in sex, profanity and most importantly violence, it takes a while for the action to really ramp up. For the first quarter of the book, it almost feels as though Hayes is feeling out his characters and determining exactly what kind of story he’s going to tell. But the time he spends early in the book allows us as readers to gain a feel for these characters, and that investment pays off in spades by the time everyone draws their swords and it’s time for people to die.
The Hersey Within was originally self-published and my understanding is that the original version needed a thorough polishing. Ragnarok has clearly done that, and it has resulted in a book that won’t distract its target audience with grammatical hiccups and typos. Between the profanity, graphic sex and violence, it’s impossible to recommend this book to everyone, in much the same way that you probably wouldn’t recommend a Quentin Tarantino movie to your grandparents (unless your grandparents are very different from mine).
Everything in this subgenre has a tendency to draw comparisons to Joe Abercrombie, but that’s probably not fair to The Heresy Within. It’s probably more similar to an early Tarantino flick – it’s better and has more insightful, if subtle, character development than it necessarily needs, with profanity and violence that occasionally seems over the top, but also an artistic touch buried beneath the madness.