Another ultraviolent doorstopper opens the Grave of Empires fantasy trilogy, from the author of God's Last Breath (2017, etc.).
Welcome to the Scar, a continent ravaged by the vicious and seemingly endless war between the elitist Empire and the egalitarian Revolution. To this once beautiful land came the famous Sal the Cacophony riding a giant bird named Congeniality. She carried a sword named Jeff, a sentient but bloodthirsty gun named, yes, the Cacophony, with whom she's made some sort of deal, and a must-kill list of seven renegade mages. Later, as the story opens, somehow the Revolution has captured her. So to delay being executed she explains why she came to the Scar and what she did there. Her captors listen since one of their own soldiers is involved. She wanted revenge, obviously, but the details won't be disclosed for several hundred gore-soaked pages. We do wonder, though, if her will, indomitable though it may be, is stronger than the magics arrayed against her and if she's blinded herself to anything beyond retribution. All this evolves naturally out of the gritty, well-developed background, Sal's persuasive and involving backstory, and Sykes' intriguing ideas on how and why magic works here and how it's wielded. The characters are larger than life—they have to be to handle the flashes of black humor and profanity-laden dialogue. If you hadn't guessed, the action's ferocious, bloody, and unrelenting—but no matter how loud the explosions or piercing the screams, the antagonists always have time for a merry quip, a stinging rejoinder, or a philosophical discursion. While the author's previous offerings have often proven hollow at the center, with disappearing plots and long, soggy passages, this one's compulsive from start to finish.
All in all, something of a breakthrough. Will Sykes sustain it?