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The Blackest Heart by Brian Lee Durfee

The Blackest Heart by Brian Lee Durfee
Book Name: The Blackest Heart
Author: Brian Lee Durfee
Publisher(s): Saga Press
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Epic / Dark Fantasy
Release Date: February 26, 2019

Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers for The Forgetting Moon and The Blackest Heart.

“It is what we do with our own selves that defines us. Not where we came from. Or who gave us birth.”

The Forgetting Moon (cover German)The singular image that drew me into Brian Lee Durfee’s The Five Warrior Angels series was the German edition of The Forgetting Moon. A knight decked in sun-kissed armor wearing a streaming red cloak is mounted on a prancing black steed. Except the steed is not the whimsical prancing mount bearing its honorable knight. This steed has glowing red eyes and maw, appearing more akin to something of the underworld than the mount of a fairy tale prince. Meanwhile, the knight is gazing off at a dark, formidable castle and one, I might add, appears to be the object of a siege as sparks of fire flicker through the grass around them.

This was the imagery that drew me into the series, communicating the energy of warfare, dire knights and epic conquest. What Durfee had ultimately delivered in The Forgetting Moon was a truly impressive tale with elements reminiscent of George R.R. Martin’s scheming political plotting and ferocious knights in A Song of Ice and Fire; the deadly assassins in Brent Week’s The Night Angel Trilogy; the sinister atmosphere of Mark Lawrence’s The Broken Empire Trilogy; and the variety of viewpoints of Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series.

However, what each series lacked was made-up for in Durfee’s dark fantasy by the scope of the narrative and his ability to bring each of his cast of characters into a sharp focus that draws the reader deep into his universe. In all my years of reading the fantasy genre, I always longed for a series that would hit all the marks for what I thought an “epic fantasy” would be. Durfee hits every single one and then some. If you’re looking for a new dark fantasy series to dive into, I assure you that you won’t be disappointed with The Five Warrior Angels. But enough with the introduction, onto the review of the second installment: The Blackest Heart.

Betrayal, suspension, showdowns, assassinations, court politics, noble endeavors, titanic armies, and evil vs good abound in The Blackest Heart. The cast of characters continue their quest to locate the legendary weapons, while dark forces move against them. Nail, after losing The Forgetting Moon, must overcome the setback and claim the weapon again while facing new dangers that threaten his destiny. Meanwhile, the massive army of Eros Raijael continues to march onward, leaving death and destruction in its wake. One of the main characters manages to overcome a dire wound, but will have to live with the aftermath. The noble Hawkwood, serious Roguemoore, cunning Seita, conflicted Krista, traumatized Ava, moral Gault, manic Jovan, and the lovable Beer Mug make a return, as well as new characters to overflow the pages of Durfee’s narrative. To which he continues to skillfully weave each into his story, one of profound grimness that won’t disappoint any dark fantasy fan.

Besides the main figures of the knight, the assassins and the elflike Vallè who have graced the series so far, Durfee introduces new creatures that lend mystical elements to his world. Without giving too much away I was greatly excited that my hopes came true with the introduction of a beast that is one of the hallmarks of the fantasy genre. This further pushed the diversity of creatures and humanoids Durfee gets to play with, adding more fantastical elements against the overall backdrop of the realistic medieval setting.

Durfee’s plotting moves with a lightning-quick pace and no page feels wasted. Every chapter feels organic to the plot and everything lends itself towards the overall story. While there continues to be some suspension-building moments within the narrative that might slow it down a tad, he always manages keep the pace moving with inserts of action, grand reveals or characterization that doesn’t feel fragmented. And while The Blackest Heart is a massive novel, it truly does live-up to the epicness he has promised. 

Durfee’s writing style isn’t meant to be whimsical or poetic. Its stark and hard and does the job it’s supposed to: lending to a breakneck tale that will keep one reading late into the night and following into the early hours of the morning.

Besides the prose, Durfee continues to build onto the religious aspects of the Ways and Truths of Laijon, as well as the lore of the weapons, the stones and the overall world he created. The landscape itself feels lived-in and the worldbuilding remains vast and impressive. Whispers of magic lace Durfee’s world and creep into the cracks of the brutal story, lending mysticism and hope to the heroes who struggle within it.

Personally, that’s what I love the most of The Five Warrior Angels series so far. That within the underbelly of the world he has built, Durfee manages to sprinkle in bits of hope that the characters try to catch and hold onto. Dark fantasy is not meant to be all doom and gloom, it’s meant to reflect the world we live in. That within the slog of overcoming daily struggles, either of facing a massive army, of dealing with a tyrant king, of challenging the very fabric of society itself, of achieving respect among foes and companions alike, the cast strides onward towards a better tomorrow.

I am greatly anticipating the next installment: The Lonesome Crown. Durfee continues to march onto the dark fantasy arena and prove himself as a grand new author who can stand with the best of them. In time I wouldn’t be surprised if Durfee’s The Five Warrior Angelsseriesbecame a classic alongside Glen Cook’s The Black Company or Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen. It’s that good.


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