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Scourge: A Darkhurst Novel Kindle Edition
|Length: 400 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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Gail Z Martin returns with a new dark fantasy series. In the world of Ravenwood there are so many ways to die and the Valmonde brothers have seen them all. They are undertakers in the family tradition. From cleaning up after monster kills and dispersing ghosts after hearing their confessions their business is brisk in the city. All deaths are considered necessary for keeping the balance of light and dark per the roving prophets in the city.
This novel again shows the author's wonderful wold building ability. Within this first novel the geography, political, and economics are established through a wonderfully built narrative. The characters all have their distinct personalities so conversations are easy to follow.
I'm really looking forward to novel 2 of this series and cannot recommend it highly enough. Gail Z Martin has proven herself a master of high fantasy so this book will delight fans of the genre.
Scourge follows the stories of three brothers and an assortment of other characters, all equally important to the narrative, and is set in a world in which magic, monsters, and politics all collide while giving the reader glimpses of a larger and equally intriguing world beyond the tale’s focus.
The three brothers are Corran, Rigan and Kell Valmonde – they are undertakers, and their duty is to fetch and bury the dead according to the different customs which govern how the dead are treated. These customs are described in enough detail that the reader is given a good indication of their importance, and the customs also compliment various strands of the tale’s plot – i.e. the customs aren’t useless, and add a layer of important detail to the story while also adding more layers to the world -and city- the Valmonde brothers live in.
Corran is the oldest brother and is still suffering through the trauma of losing people important to him, a trauma which Rigan and Kell also share. Since Corran is the oldest, he’s the leader, the one who takes chances he wouldn’t want his brothers to have to take, and he also makes the hard decisions – not only does this lead Corran into more danger than he can safely handle, but also leads to conflict between him and his brothers.
Rigan hides an interesting skill, revealed in the first chapter, which eventually sets him off on his own path – a path that will take Rigan into depths and darkness shunned by most of the city-dwellers, but which shares an important connection with what Corran is doing, and Kell is learning the undertaker-trade while trying to keep his brothers off each other; Kell’s path intersects with each of his brothers’, and he is as important to the plot as they are.
The dynamic between the brothers is excellently written – each singular personality shines, each ‘voice’ stands out, and each of their roles, while unique, compliment not only their relationships with each other but also serve to generate those important aspects of characters like empathy and curiosity – I connected with each of the brothers and was really interested in what would happen to them as the plot unfolded.
There are other characters who swirl into and out of the plot, and the most important of these is the mayor of Ravenwood – his role, and the role he plays throughout the novel, ties together the influence he has has on the city’s various Guilds (the Valmonde-brothers, as undertakers, are part of a Guild), the political games and tactics he uses to maintain the balance between what he needs to do (for those he serves) and what he wants to do (for himself and to further secure his position), and the ever-present threat of the very interesting and important layers of magic and sorcery which affect everyone in the city. He’s a fully-fleshed character, in both his personality, ambitions, traits and foibles, and has concrete and believable reasons for being who he is and doing what he does.
Many other characters people the city, and though they don’t (understandably) get the focus the main cast does, they all add to the well-crafted illusion of a living, breathing populace with their own problems and points of view.
Ravenwood itself is a great character itself, even though it’s just a city – and because it’s not just a city, too. It’s obvious that Gail put plenty of considered thought into the hierarchy of its people, its layout, and how different it is in the day time compared to the night time. It also stands out in the wider world, remaining interesting even as Gail gives us hints of other places and events central to Ravenwood’s existence and place.
The novel’s magic-system is both interesting and fresh, using both rituals, energy and herbs, to name but a few important aspects, and what also came through strongly for me was not only how the magic affected the characters and drove the plot (and by saying this, I mean that all seemed to be balanced and complimented each other) but also how much Gail enjoyed the magic-system she had created. There’s danger and excitement galore. 🙂
Plot-wise, the novel is quick and doesn’t waste any time – threads which become very important are sowed early on in a manner which adds flavour and layers to the tale, not simply because these threads are important to the plot. What Gail also does, throughout the novel, is keep not only the plot moving forward as she reveals more about the world and the magic, but the plot affects the characters and the characters influence the plot – two things which any novel needs to do, and do well, to keep the reader hooked. Gail makes it looked so damned easy… 😉
Scourge is strong, fine tale which takes the reader into a vibrant, dangerous and exciting world by using vibrant characters and an exciting plot, without having to use the massive battles and eons-long conflicts which so many Fantasy tales use. It’s tightly crafted and composed, features great stand-out characters, and doesn’t once tread anywhere near stereotypical characters or tropey excuses. Really damned enjoyable!
The linchpins of the tale are the Valmonde brothers; these three, young men having inherited the family business when their mother was horribly killed and their father died a mysterious death. Working as guild undertakers in the city-state of Ravenwood, Corran, Rigan, and Kell use rituals, religious ceremonies and more than a little magic to set the souls of the dead free and keep them from returning to the living as ghouls. But most of their time is spent arguing with one another, dealing with their personal issues, and desperately trying to make enough money to pay bribes to the city guard, yet still have enough left over to survive another day.
As for the brothers’ home city of Ravenwood, it isn’t exactly what it seems from outside its gilded gates. Certainly, it is a civilized land ruled by merchant princes, mayors, and powerful guilds, where the business of trade and the making of gold rules all, but even here there is a worsening plague of creatures terrorizing the citizens. Ghouls lurking in the shadows; other — even more foul — monsters springing up to maim and kill, while the city guard seemingly does nothing. All of which causes the Valmonde brothers to become embroiled in the dangerous business of monster hunting and forbidden magic.
Intertwined with our three brothers tale is the doings of the Lord Mayor Machison. This devious, power-hungry man about as despicable as one can get. His scheming, political maneuvering and callous use of power hiding a greater secret, one which involves trade and power, wealth and magic!
As always, the strength of Gail Z. Martin’s writing is her ability to craft likable main characters; people who draw you in and demand that you follow along with them through the story. The Valmonde brothers fitting this description perfectly. Corran, Rigan, and Kell very realistic people who have strengths and flaws, dreams and failures, which transform them into living, breathing people, whom a reader will learn to care for and desperate hope succeed.
The other highlight of the book is the different flavor of medieval society presented. Yes, it is still European in nature, but instead of the fairly pedestrian feudal monarchies of so many fantasy offerings, Scourge‘s world is ruled by merchant princes, revolves around trade pacts and includes powerful guilds with intricate politics involved in every facet of life. It is difficult for the author to set this all up, especially since it isn’t juicy stuff, but once Gail Z. Martin lays a firm foundation for this society in the first half of the book it really becomes very enjoyable experiencing something a bit different.
The only issue I had with Scourge was the length of the narrative. Many times the expositions on the world and its economic system seemed a bit too lengthy. This was more apparent during the Lord Mayor’s sections of the book than the Valmonde brothers, but it reared its head quite often. I completely understand why the author had to spend time explaining this unique city-state, its rulers, and the guilds, but I wish there had been a more organic, exciting way of handling it.
Undertakers. Guilds. Merchant princes. Monsters. Magic. And three brothers trying to live a normal life while caught up in the whole mess. Gail Z. Martin’s Scourge will entertain and excite readers, especially those who love stories driven by well developed main characters.
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.
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