The Grim Company review

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Grim Company is the debut Fantasy novel of Luke Scull, an English video game designer. It was released in the UK in March 2013 and will be out for North America in September (you can already pick-up the audio-book from anywhere...). The Grim Company also seems to stand as a name for the series and will be followed next year by Sword of the North.
This is a world dying. 
A world where wild magic leaks from the corpses of rotting gods, desperate tyrants battle over fading resources, impassive shapeshifters marshal beasts of enormous size and startling intelligence, and ravenous demons infest the northern mountains. A world where the only difference between a hero and a killer lies in the ability to justify dark deeds. 
But even in this world, pockets of resistance remain. When two aging warriors save the life of a young rebel, it proves the foundation for an unlikely fellowship. A fellowship united against tyranny, yet composed of self-righteous outlaws, crippled turncoats and amoral mercenaries. A grim company, indeed...
Gritty, grim, dark, violent, dystopian, angry, cynical. Simply by its name, the book is pledging its allegiance to the new grimdark trend of Fantasy. Even if it's a well-intentioned idea and lucid way of doing the promotion of a book these days, it felt pushed slightly too far for me.  I'll get into the actual review of the book soon, but I will start by shaking off some misconception I felt in retrospect.

While I liked this debut well enough, I don't think Scull is the new Joe Abercrombie or Mark Lawrence. He may prove me wrong in the future (and I hope so) but even if there is some serious themes covered, gore is splashing everywhere in some instances and indeed grit is present in The Grim Company, that's not the only elements defining those authors works. They also write grim novels (and are good at it) but their craft is renowned for what is found in their stories, characters and writing. Erikson's Malazan books or Richard Morgan novels are nice names to be associated with, but they create some hard to achieve expectations. Anyway, the only thing to consider about this is that indeed, the book should appeal to the fans of the grimdark current but this incarnation shouldn't be the heralded simply as such.

That being said, I still enjoyed quite a bit Scull's novelization debut. It's a nice Epic Fantasy (on the dark side) story told through the eyes of various protagonists intermingling with each other through the span of several weeks where their reality is greatly shaken. The characters live in a world where the Gods have been killed and where Magelords rule in city states where their voice is law, be it for the good of the people or their own. Among those Magelords, three of them with completely different visions create the backdrop for a tale of considerable proportion with the search for power and justice at the heart of it.

Among the rivals of the oppression taking place in Dominia stands the young rebel Davarus Cole. The groomed for and self-appointed wannabe hero is a clever idea as a character. I couldn't really take him seriously but I still cared for him taking into account all the clumsy efforts he his putting into it. All he wants is to fulfill his destiny of being a hero but he's doing it mostly wrong.  Hopefully, he is surrounded by more competent people and eventually trained to hone his skills. Sadly though, that's a part of the story which went by too fast.

Speaking of which, while the overall pace of the book is usually balanced, for some parts of the tale, time-jumps of several days or weeks are manifesting.  However, it doesn't seem to be the case for all the characters. It creates a kind of weird feeling of timing. This is the kind of result that should subside in Scull's upcoming books.

The stereotypical Northman hero who is a bad-ass fighter with a conscience is also present in the form of Brodar Kayne.  The fact that we have read about this type of protagonist more often than not isn't a criticism as I also grew fond of his presence. A compelling familiar character will always be better than a dull original one.  The only thing I would reproach the author when writing about Kayne is the energy the man, designated as the Sword of the North, is always finding just after admitting that he's done...

Still on the conventional side of things is Eremul, the half mage.  A witty grumpy disabled and scorned individual wielding some magic and a dark sense of humor. He brings grins to the reading of story veiled with an atmosphere of dread.  I felt some creepiness when I thought about the world of the Trine.  With the destruction being wrought on the region and the disappearance of the Gods and sources of magic and not many references to what stands outside that part of the world, there were times when it felt hollow.  But when the narrative came back to what happens in the city, the world building blossomed enough to create a nice feeling of immersion.

Finally for the major players with a point of view, we meet with Barandas, the Supreme Augmentor, the enhanced by magical equipment special forces of Salazar, the ruler of Dominia.  With him and the people he encounters, we get a view from the other side of things.  He's enamored with duty and remains true to the end. Being able to understand where the moral ambiguity comes from all sides of the struggle is great and just the right dose of it is revealed.

That last aspect doesn't encompass the entire tale told as a finished story arc in The Grim Company.  Characters like Yllandris the 'sorceress' and here people stand mostly on the sidelines but bring other kind of magic to the table and possible threads for the futures.  A couple of other members of the cast also have dubious impact on the book but will surely be revealed as important players in the upcoming books.

If I want to summarize my thoughts of the novel, I would say that Luke Scull's first book in his series is a promising Epic story that wants to be gritty (and succeeds) where the action push the storyline forward rapidly without breaking pace to let the character contemplate their situation for too long. It's set in an interesting world where several ways of using magic are found and where disparate compelling but classic characters take things into their own hands. I'll definitely keep an eye on the release of the second book.

Technically, I think that the helmet cover form the Head of Zeus edition of the book is looking stylish and draws attention easily. It's a good choice to stick with this idea for the next books. A nice looking map of The Trine, where the action takes place is included (you can also find it here). The hardcover edition of the books stand at 464 pages and you can read 67% of the book at Head of Zeus (in e-book format).

The Grim Company
 review rating :

World building
Magic system 

Overall (not an average)


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