What Remains of Heroes by David Benem
|Book Name:||What Remains of Heroes|
|Formatt:||Paperback / Ebook|
|Release Date:||April 15, 2015|
We’re all well aware that, as the old saying goes, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But after reading What Remains of Heroes, book one of A Requiem For Heroes by David Benem, I couldn’t help but think back to my first glance at the cover and how it had taken me several long moments to figure out exactly what it was about the artwork that bothered me.
If you have a spare moment, take a look at the cover above (if that image is too small, there’s a larger copy here). For the most part, it’s your standard modern fantasy cover, complete with a hooded figure in the shadows. The moon in the background is a nice touch, and the sign indicating The Wanton Vicar, the name of the inn where the story begins, tells me the cover was designed specifically for this book.
It doesn’t really bother me that the light behind our shadowy figure doesn’t seem to have any identifiable source. No, what really gets me is the sword in the foreground. If you look closely, you’ll realize that it isn’t laying on the ground as I’d first thought – instead, it’s actually hovering a few inches above the floorboards.
As to why the cover features a floating sword … I have no idea. Once I began reading, I found firmly-gripped swords being used to stab people on quite a few occasions, but there was a distinct absence of flying, floating or levitating swords. You could argue it was a small detail in the grand scheme of the cover design, but it was enough to keep me from fully buying in, and now I can’t look at that cover without wondering why the hell that sword is floating on its own in the middle of a dark alley.
In many ways, I felt the same way about some aspects of Benem’s debut novel.
What Remains of Heroes begins with Lannick deVeers, a formerly heroic captain in the royal army who now mourns the death of his family and career from his barstool at The Wanton Vicar. Of all the characters in the book, nobody faces horror equal to what Lannick faces in the book, and his encounters with the Necrists – evil magic users intent on bringing the dark god Yrghul, Lord of Nightmares, back to the living world – are truly harrowing. Those scenes are well-crafted, and you can genuinely feel Lannick’s rising horror as he battles creatures who have stolen the faces of his dead wife and children.
Unfortunately, Lannick is also presented as a former hero, a man who inspired others to heroic feats and was once one of the premier military leaders in the kingdom. Once Lannick sobers up, he handily kills a loan shark and his two henchmen, but we never really meet this great leader of men that we’re told Lannick used to be.
In fact, when we first meet Lannick, he seems painfully stupid. Sitting on his barstool, he’s certainly not under the illusion that he’s any sort of catch – he refers to himself as a drunken wretch, then sighs and wishes that he were something closer to his old self, explicitly telling us that he became a smelly, stumbling drunk following the death of his wife and children, which was apparently his fault. But when two attractive women invite him to climb off his barstool to join them at their mansion for a night of lovemaking, he ignores the protests of the barkeeper (yes, even the barkeeper knew this was a bad idea) and runs off into the night. Needless to say, this decision doesn’t end especially well for Lannick.
The rest of the book features an assortment of point-of-view characters. Karnag Mak Ragg, an assassin, thief and cutthroat, is hired to kill the holy Lector and successfully completes the job, but almost instantly realizes that the murder has left him with side effects that robs him of his sanity and what few morals he may have possessed. Soon Fencress Fallcrow, a fellow assassin and member of his gang, is the only friend he has left, though she doesn’t seem to have any idea how to help him. Fencress herself is one of the better characters, but I was never quite able to buy her insistence that she and what remains of their gang remain loyal to Karnag. Once Karnag begins whispering to himself and piling up corpses, Fenchress insists that he’s her best friend, but I hadn’t gotten that feeling from their previous scenes – she just seemed like the second-most capable member of the gang.
Zandrachus Bale, a bookish monk, finds himself pulled into the story’s events as he discovers a conspiracy within the king’s palace and is sent to investigate the Lector’s death. His scenes lend us a better understanding of the world’s religious history, but can also be a touch slow in a novel that doesn’t seem to have quite enough action to fit in the mold of Abercrombie or Lawrence. Much of the plot revolves around the religious mythology Benem has crafted. That aspect of the world-building is well done, but a plot centered around the good guys fighting to keep a dark god from returning to wreak death and destruction felt a touch too familiar for my tastes.
At times the characters also seemed strangely self-aware, from Lannick’s internal dialogue mourning the fact that his family’s death precipitated his descent into alcoholism, to Karnag’s soliloquy regarding his philosophy on life as a hired killer, to Bale’s repeated insistence that he’s too weak an instrument to complete the tasks set before him. It was almost as though they realized exactly which character archetypes they were meant to fulfill and wanted to make certain the reader didn’t miss them either.
Nonetheless, this is a book that clearly has its fans. Its reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are largely positive, and the fine folks over at Fantasy Book Review advanced it to the final round of 10 in Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, specifically citing how much they liked the characters. There are some good aspects to the book – Benem’s development of the world’s religious history stands out, and the Necrists are as creepy as anything I’ve read outside the horror genre – so if the characters click for you, you’ll really enjoy the book.
I just kept found myself distracted by minor details – much like the floating sword on the cover – that kept me from fully diving into the story.