"The Grim Company"
by Luke Scull
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Review copy received through the courtesy of the publisher, Head of Zeus
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...
Game related fantasy novels are one of my guilty pleasures and I am not one to deny an attraction to the fictional worlds of Dungeons & Dragons, Forgotten Realms, Warhammer or more recently, Pathfinder. I always found entertainment within the novels of these universes and at least one little pleasing thing among their pages. Therefore, when I learned of Luke Scull, a designer of computer roleplaying games, and his debut fantasy novel, “The Grim Company”, to a certain point my mind made a connection with the familiar game related fiction. And I saw no reason to shy away from it.
When I say a connection with the game related fiction I am thinking at pace and style and no connection with any existing game, although if one sets the mind to it a computer game could be born based on Luke Scull’s “The Grim Company”. And as I discovered, the said correlation was not off the mark, Luke Scull delivered a novel full of adventure and in a hasten rhythm. The story moves between its landmark points and several subplots with speed and ease encouraging a fast reading of “The Grim Company” without feeling as a burden in the least. A couple of the plots running along the novel are familiar to the readers of fantasy literature, but there is enough vivacity behind them to compensate for the sense of awareness.
There is nothing new to a city under the ruthless rule of a tyrant or the unlikely group of characters who find themselves together in an attempt to rid the world of this despot. A mage in search of revenge, a soldier caught between the sense of duty and thoughts of righteousness and a former champion of a land on the run after his actions clashed with the orders of another ruler are themes played before in one way or another. However, Luke Scull avoids leading the reader in the same tiresome way by constructing an interesting world, one struggling without much success to recover from a war that brought the complete destruction of the gods. A dark and grim setting, but one that effectively works and without impending on the reader while it is introduced and built by the author along the story. One more thing that makes the familiar motifs work in the case of “The Grim Company” is that although for the better part the story apparently draws clear lines between good and evil at the end of the novel there is enough grayness for all of the characters involved to keep the balance in perfect symmetry and not incline it towards one characteristic or another.
Besides adventures, pace, rhythm and world-building, the set of characters of “The Grim Company” also make the journey through the story swift for the reader. Again I walked on recognizable territory with plenty of them, but there are enough reasons to take sides and sympathize with some of the protagonists. Brodar Kayne, the formidable swordsman of the North is the perfect example in this case. The most common figure of fantasy literature among the characters of Luke Scull’s novel, Bordar Kayne receives sufficient attention from the author to gain sympathy from the reader, surmounting the triviality of this type of characters. Davarus Cole is another character taking the central stage in ample times, a wannabe hero with the head in the clouds failing to see past his open-eyed dreams. Along the way, Davarus Cole’s behavior becomes repetitive and this nudges the pleasure of the reading, but there is plenty of hilarity born from this behavior and the situations in which Davarus Cole finds himself to veer his conduct from being entirely stereotypical. Completing the cast are Barandas, the most skilled and trusted warrior of Salazar (the tyrant of Dorminia, the aim of the rebelling actions taken by most the characters) who finds himself caught between duty and honor, Eremul the Halfmage, a wizard with a sharp tongue and acid remarks, Isaac, his aide, a seemingly simpleton with unlimited resources, Yllandris, a sorceress in search of power and position but with a softness of the heart in opposition to her thoughts and Sasha, a brave fighter for freedom who steadily grows a connection with Brodar Kayne.
The adventures these characters are going through kept me turning the pages, fights, battles, shapeshifters, strange creatures, demons, magic, magically enhanced weapons with the unpleasant habit of creating dependency to their wearer, elements that are pleasant treats in the reading on Luke Scull’s “The Grim Company”. However, I am not sure if I am too picky or not but there were a couple of things that paused on my tracks. An unsettled wound is inflicted on a right arm (“Suddenly Jerek stumbled, barely staying on his feet. Brodar Kayne heard his growled fuck, saw him stagger again as another quarrel hit him in his right arm. The Wolf slowed and then sank to one knee.” p. 138) seems to affect the left one on the next page (“Regaining his feet, Kayne turned and saw Jerek struggling to rise. Blood soaked his left arm and pooled on the ground at his feet.” p. 139) and jumps back to the right side a bit later (“Jerek was there, crouched beside him. His right shoulder and thigh were wrapped in padded dressing.” p. 193), a novice taught by a professional assassin too fast in the art of murder and a feared mercenary army that finds its match in a militia force gathered over night are aspects that brought me disbelief. Obstacles not very difficult to overpass, but manifesting a presence that still needs to be considered.
“The Grim Company” walks on already paved roads but it does so in an entertaining manner, with a generous amount of adventures, action, energy and pace. Enough to keep one interested in the outcome of Luke Scull’s “Grim Company” series when the next novels become available.