Ordinary human soldiers face supernatural foes in this first installment of a fantasy series.
fiction debut stars a young man named Tammen Gilmot, a private first class in
the Dragon Company of the 37th regiment in service to the Verin Empire, sent to
the far-flung province of Rakhasin. Tammen is new to the service, having only
recently taken the Queen’s Coin and shipped out to the frontier. He joins the
unit of a legendary commander, Capt. Hoskaaner, known as the Statue Man, who
initially seems like an ageless holdover from the old days when Elves still
intermingled with human empires. As one seasoned soldier complacently informs
Tammen: “You can’t expect things to be orderly where there’s wyrding involved.”
The disappearance of the Elves has left a power imbalance that’s allowed the
kingdom of Gedlund, led by an immortal witch king named Thyesten, to flourish
and threaten the Verin Empire with supernatural forces such as weaponized
sorcery and goblin shock troops. Early on, Tammen faces the fierce goblins (“Though he’d read
of them, seen sketches in books, and even caricatures in the paper, none of
that left him quite prepared for his first sight of the goblin warriors. They
were much shorter than men, but their hunched run gave him little sense of size
as they darted through the waving grass. Their broad olive faces were streaked
in white paint”). This promising first volume mainly
tells the story of Tammen’s coming-of-age as both a young man and a soldier.
Ray shifts easily among scenes of campfire camaraderie and well-executed action
sequences in which the Verin rifles, artillery, and bayonets go up against the
swords and sorcery of their Rakhasin enemies and others. Tammen, ostracized for
much of his youth because of his intellect and formal education, finds in
Dragon Company unexpected friendships under fire, and his newcomer status on
the frontier gives Ray a ready-made vehicle for introducing readers to the
refreshingly intricate back stories of Gedlund, Verin, and the magic wars that
have grown in ferocity since the departure of the Elves from the world. The
book’s dialogue crackles with authenticity, its characters are unfailingly well-drawn, and although its pacing can be uneven at times, its complicated systems—political
and magical—are satisfyingly multilayered.
This bracing, complex tale pits a fantasy-world version of the Victorian British Empire against a sorcerer-dictator out of The Lord of the Rings.