Fantasy debut and first of a series from an author whose Twitter handle is @queenofgrimdark; it first appeared earlier this year in the U.K.
For those unacquainted, “grimdark” is a subgenre sometimes characterized as anti-Tolkien or nihilistic, though more generally referring to grunge fantasy featuring unremitting gory violence, characters with few or no redeeming virtues, and an atmosphere of gloom and doom. As the once-mighty Sekemleth Empire crumbles, Lord Orhan Emmereth decides a change of governance is necessary and organizes a conspiracy to murder the emperor and all his chief advisers. He hires a company of mercenaries—who more resemble Shakespearean rude mechanicals than professional killers—to infiltrate the impregnable city of Sorlost and do the deed. Led by the thoughtful Tobias and featuring a mysteriously well-educated, nervous young drug addict named Marith—who manages to kill a dragon along the way—the company reaches the city. Expect betrayal inside deception wrapped in double-dealing, a gory slaughterfest, and the revelation of Marith’s true identity. Taking advantage of the ensuing chaos, Thalia, the powerful high priestess of the official religion, which features child sacrifice, whose fate is to be killed by her successor, escapes the temple only to fall in with Tobias, Marith, and company, where she becomes utterly entranced by Marith’s physical beauty. Those impressed by frequent, graphic, almost Monty Python–ish bloody violence and characters with no claim to righteousness will find much to admire here. Others will marvel at a yarn of 450-plus pages whose plot contains so little of real substance and whose main character is a homicidal psychopath with no intriguing or sympathetic qualities whatsoever.
Should appeal to grimdark fans looking for the extreme edge; others may well find it nasty, brutish, and not short enough.