Friday, December 19, 2014

Review: The Grim Company

It's long overdue, but I finally was able to read Alazander's first novel, the Grim Company. Alazander, aka. Luke Scull, is one of the great module authors for Neverwinter Nights, both for his original work as well as his subsequent efforts with Ossian Studios. Here is my review of his book, which I posted at Goodreads:

The Grim Company by Luke Scull is set in a world where a group of mages rose to such power to defeat the gods themselves.  In the generations that passed since that conflict, the most powerful of the surviving mages took territory for themselves, and now wage war against one another.  While their fortified cities and impossibly powerful magic provides protection against the demons that encroach on the world now that the gods have been exterminated, the magelords rule as tyrants.  In Dorminia, home of the Magelord Salazar, a small group of resistance fighters have been quietly waiting for their moment to strike back.  While the odds seem close to impossible, they have a few tricks up their sleeves: the deep pockets of a successful merchant, drugs that permit them to escape the notice of Salazar's patrolling mindhawks, and Davarus Cole.  Cole, an orphan, possesses his father's enchanted dagger, Magebane, a magical blade that provides magical defenses against the Magelord's magic.  He would form a potent weapon, were it not for that two-copper head of his...

The thing that stands out the most about this book is the setting.  While I hope this is not offensive to say, Scull's world reminds me a bit of a post-apocalyptic Forgotten Realms: a high-magic world with a rich history and powerful, meddling deities...but set in the turmoil after mortals rose up to destroy the gods and rule on their own.  We "meet" only four of the Magelords.  Each is unique in his/her own way, and the personalities of their kingdoms follows from their masters.  It's a fantastic setting, one in which the history is every bit as exciting as the current events.

I am familiar with some of the author's prior works, and the thing that has always stood out to me was his ability to create three-dimensional, interesting characters.  That knack unquestionably continues in his novel.  We have Daravus Cole, the outrageously cocky, virtually clueless, wannabe hero.  There is Brodar Kayne and his companion Jerek the Wolf, two highlander mercenaries on the run from the North.  Sasha, the brave, adopted daughter of the resistance leader and his lieutenant.  And we have Isaac, the curiously adept manservant of Eremul, the halfmage.  It is an intentionally ragtag bunch, but each has his or her own, important role to play in the story.

As much as I ended up liking them by the novel's end, however, the thing I struggled with the most in this book was that it seemed to take a while for the depth of these characters to shine through.  Each of the heroes (antiheroes?) is presented, at least initially, as little more than the stereotype I describe above, as are most of the villains in the story.  Cole, in particular, is presented as so over-the-top-ridiculous that it was hard to continue reading through his initial strutting and immature angst.  With the exception of old Brodar Kayne, none of the characters were particularly likeable from the start of the book.  Furthermore, there were what seemed to be an inordinate number of penis mentions in the first third of the book, which I found to be off-putting (and I don't consider myself a prude).

As the book went on, however, we see more sides to each of the characters.  They are challenged, they crack, and sometimes, they find the strength to go on.  Or, they die.  Somehow, along the way, I found myself caring about all of the main characters--even Daravus Cole.  The plot develops quickly as well; far more happens in this book than I expected from the first in a series.  This book is not just about introducing threads to be wrapped up at a later time.  Rather, events happen that will permanently change the power structure of the region.  Despite the satisfying ending, there are more than enough open lines of mystery to make purchasing the next book an easy decision.  I am very much am looking forward to Sword of the North!

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