This series opener sees a warrior determined to free an island from a Daemon’s grasp.
Dysart of clan Bloodhammer has lost his sloop and is now washed ashore on the island of Volgunther. He’s immediately set upon by savages, but thankfully a man named Talbot saves Dysart with his bow and arrows. At his nearby cabin, Talbot learns that his guest has no tongue. Then Dysart draws a rune in hog’s blood on his throat, which allows him to speak. He explains that his people, the Cayne, once inhabited the island. They also woke a Daemon called Salamandrus, making a pact with the entity for power that involved the ritual of Sang Daemanus. Later, they sealed the Daemon away, but “instead of ending their service to Salamandrus, they departed from this place, hoping to retain their power.” Dysart has come to end his people’s accord and make Volgunther a hospitable island once more. After obtaining an axe and other supplies from Talbot, he travels east toward a settlement. He saves a pyromancer named Randall from wolf men and drinks their blood to receive heightened senses and healing abilities. But Dysart concludes that his rune for speech will fade without the esper oil derived from a plant somewhere on the island. Randall joins him, and they head for Etmire Abbey, where they encounter the Order of the Cross. Dysart will need every ally he can find as he battles through monstrous hordes toward Salamandrus’ lair in Castle Golvundehr.
Dennis (War and Glory, 2017, etc.) squeezes all the gore he can from his muscular imagination to enhance his novel, which recalls the viscera-strewn adventures of fantasy icons like Conan and Elric. Readers learn early on about Dysart’s magic: “Animal blood is effective, if weak. Human blood is potent, if unsavory...but Daemon’s blood makes us unstoppable.” This results in a marathon of grisly dispatches—encounters with frog men, murderous plants, zombies, and worse—that propel the hero but also fuel his addiction to power. While the plot is somewhat linear, the gruesome premise shines blackly throughout. Dysart not only needs blood, but he’s also traded his tongue, his testicles (“that we might not realize our own power as humans”), and his mind as an initiate of Sang Daemanus. Fighting at his side are characters like Pattius, a thief; Marcus, a knight; and Reman, a young orphan. The author often fleshes out these warriors just enough to draw from readers a meaningful wince as he sacrifices them to Dysart’s cause. A dreadful ambience hovers even in quieter moments, as in the line “Only darkened hills loomed in the distance. Everything else was flat grassland molded by gusts of wind.” The dialogue during combat scenes is appropriately maniacal (“Blast you, croakers! Fall to the wrath of Randall!”), yet Dysart is capable of speaking beautifully. In cautioning Talbot, whose family is dead, he says: “Hold their memory dearly, and do not rush to see them.” Though the violence grows monotonous, a finale bristling with invention redeems the work.
A bloodbath that should impress readers of the grimmest fantasy tales.