Andy Remic has written a slew of science fiction and fantasy books with a military emphasis, so would I enjoy this latest offering by Angry Robot, set in the same world of his Rage of Kings duology?
Five noble war heroes of Vagandrak get drunk one night and sign a contract – to journey to the Karamakkos in search of the Five Havens where, it is written, there is untold, abandoned wealth and, more importantly, the three Dragon Heads – jewels claimed to give unspeakable power and everlasting life to those who wield them. But the Dragon Heads aren’t what they think, and the world has not encountered their like in generations… Think Smaug was fierce? You ain’t seen nothing!
And there you have the blurb. And do the dragons put Smaug into the shade? Oh yes – Remic’s specialty is writing full-on action and he does it very well. Once it all kicks off, he has the numerous fights bouncing off the page, packed with gory detail and yet managing to keep the narrative plunging forward. It’s a whole lot harder to pull off than Remic makes it look.
One of the issues I often have with full-tilt action stories is the fighting and mayhem comes at the expense of the characterisation and backstory – a potential trap that Remic manages to sidestep. This grimdark fantasy starts out with a band of heroes getting together a number of years after they had successfully fought off a terrible enemy threatening to sweep through the kingdom. When fearsome axeman Beetrax persuades his former comrades in arms to accompany him to search the network of mines left by the dwarves, now long extinct, to find the fabled hoard of the three dragons, I was under the impression I was about to get another Tolkeinesque adventure. And on one level, I did. There was more than enough danger to go around, often erupting when I wasn’t expecting it.
But this was so much more. Remic’s violence has consequences. People get hurt and are altered by what happens to them. The group dynamic is impacted, depending on who did what to whom. Great bravery doesn’t necessarily mean nice or generous-spirited. Beetrax may be hugely courageous, but he is also vain, greedy and selfish. Which didn’t stop me holding my breath on several occasions when I was convinced he was about to die, because Remic isn’t above offing one of his main protagonists, either. And despite his less likeable traits, Beetrax pinged off the page such that I cared what happened to him. The backdrop was well depicted, and kicked up a notch once we plunged under the mountain, deep in the mines with the dwarves, where the storyline took me by surprise. What eventually went down was unexpected and shocking.
If you are squeamish, then this isn’t for you. And if you have youngsters in the house, occasionally attracted to cool dragonish book covers to want to pick up your Fantasy offerings in passing, then keep this one out of their reach. The language is explicit and so is the violence. People get damaged – physically and emotionally. And we are pulled into their lives to care. I read the book on my Kindle on a train journey in a couple of sessions. I often find books read under those conditions don’t stick, but this one did. Remic is clearly a writer right at the top of his game, and while this subgenre isn’t my favourite, I’m certainly going to track down the next book in this series because I want to know what happens to Beetrax and his surviving companions. And those dragons…
My copy of this book was provided by the publishers through Netgalley, while my review is entirely my own work and opinion.