An ex-soldier battles small-town corruption and an ancient evil in Brantingham’s debut fantasy novel.
Once Capt. Sean Fitzpatrick was the loyal guard to Dwyer, King of Easthorn Castle. When Easthorn falls to the invading King Keodan, Sean expects to die defending Dwyer. Instead, Keodan himself spares him, though his wife and child are slaughtered in the rampage. Grieving and homeless, Sean stumbles into the small town of Skoagy, with only the legendary Vathiriel Blade at his side. Sean wants nothing more than to find peace, but fate has other plans. He quickly crosses paths with Phireol Cook, saloon owner and Skoagy’s self-appointed sheriff. Cook has made a profitable business of crookery and threats, and he doesn’t like the look of the mysterious stranger. His suspicions are confirmed when Sean decides to help a family struggling to make loan payments to Cook, interfering with his meticulous web of coercion. Soon Cook hatches a plan to be rid of Sean once and for all. But Sean has other ideas, including a quest to slay the sinister Watcher in the forest and retrieve its treasure for the good of the town. Brantingham’s prose moves quickly, generating constant tension, and multiple battle scenes, with their blood spatter and plunging knives, further raise the stakes. Much of the plot follows the a-stranger-rides-into-town narrative more closely associated with Clint Eastwood films than fantasy novels, right down to the saloon, the prostitutes, the corrupt sheriff, and the sniveling cowards who assist him. In some aspects, it’s unavoidably formulaic (one wishes for more complex representations of the female characters, whose roles are largely limited to wife, mother, bride, or whore), but the Western style also helps to ground Sean’s quest and adds welcome verve to the fantasy premise. Sean is the essence of a stoic hero whose suffering is neither touted nor glossed over. Ultimately, the unusual genre mashup and crisp prose make this novel a fun read.
An unexpectedly compelling lone wolf narrative in a Western-flavored fantasy world.