Deceit, bloodshed and revenge are at the core of Gleason’s (Ravagers, 2013, etc.) first book in a planned fantasy series.
The primitive world of Vraniga is inhabited by several humanoid races, including the multi-armed Obnarm, the Braunzin and the Noomok, who deform their children to make them more fearsome in battle. This first book in this epic is ostensibly about the rise of a Braunzin clan as it gains power. It starts a few generations into the past, telling the story of Garmish, a Braunzin who seeks to win a female by tricking a Noomok into giving him control of a trading domain. Gleason aggressively pushes his adventure forward, motivating his characters with lust, power and the urge for survival. Frequently, conflict arises over Vor, a resource that could be “shined to beautification and worn, or melted down to make tools and weapons….Vor represented power.” Ultimately, such power, and the corruption it causes, is the story’s main theme, as character after character fights to the top, only to become a tyrant. Along the way, each faces off against Vraniga’s vicious beasts, and each endures terrible suffering. Although the book’s overall story is complex, the prose is simple, straightforward and brief; many chapters are not much longer than a page. That said, Gleason frequently tells readers straight out what a character feels or thinks, rather than subtly developing interactions. Garmish’s relationship with Yana, for example, boils down to little more than “Garmish was still quite infatuated with her.” Readers may also find it difficult to like many of the characters, because the sympathy they gain for their suffering is often obliterated by their actions once in power. Despite these flaws, Gleason’s worldbuilding and clear prose combine to create a highly readable, fast-paced tale.
An enjoyable fantasy for those looking for something brisk and brutal.