It’s been a crazy-long time since I’ve done a book review—not that I haven’t read a ton of great books, but life has just been too hectic for reviews. I had this blog tour. Then some writing conferences. Plus, I’ve been finishing Savage Prophet and dealing with real life on top of everything else. With all that said, I recently had the privilege of reading an advance copy for a high-fantasy/grimdark fantasy from a new Indie author, Frank Dorrian, and the book was too good not to share. Plus, the author is just starting out and is a real rad guy, so I want to throw some support his way.
The Shadow of the High King (from the back cover): Violence, betrayal and vengeance rot Caermark from within.
King Aenwald, a murderous tyrant determined to continue his twenty-year rule, will suffer no man that lusts for power. But those who came long before the Kings of Caermark stir once again, after a hundred years of silence, and even Aenwald’s iron fist may struggle to hold them and the chaos they bring.
The mercenary lord, Arnulf, dreams of greater things than a life of bloodshed and murder. Robbed of his birthright and denied justice by King Aenwald, those very dreams may carry their price in blood for his loyal band of men, as he strives to see them made real.
The young warrior, Harlin, haunted by the atrocities he suffered as a child, struggles to come to terms with the past. Consumed by hate and obsessed by revenge, how far is he willing to go to see it done, as the horrors within his mind run unchecked and unchained?
The MC: As you’ve probably gleaned from the description above, this book has three main characters—King Aenwald, Lord Arnulf, and Harlin. None of them are nice people. In fact, they’re all violent, brutal, bloodthirsty assholes. All of them. They’re a pretty tough crowd to like, all in all. King Aenwald is a tyrant who likes torture, murder, and ladies of the night. Lord Arnulf is a deposed noble, slumming around as a mercenary commander. And Harlin? Harlin’s a straight-up murder machine. A former slave, his mind is bent entirely toward revenge and he will do literally anything to murder the folks responsible for the death of his kin.
The World: The characters are great, sure, but the world building is fantastic. This is definitely second world fantasy, but it’s obviously Celtic inspired; if I had to place it in a historical setting I’d say, this book takes place on the British Isle circa 600 AD, after the Romans finally abandoned their conquest. I read a lot of second world fantasy and a lot of hose books feel made up, artificial, but not Frank Dorrian’s work.
There’s a sense of depth and reality to the culture and world that you don’t get in too many high fantasy novels. The tone is dark, dark, dark and uber realistic—this is far more George R.R. Martian than Tolkien, so you’ve been warned. The supernatural is present, but applied with a light touch that almost feels more like magical realism. Likewise, magic does exist in this world, but it’s been dormant, almost dead, for a long time. It is, however, starting to return in trickles.
The Story and Writing: I really loved this story. The book is long, the story sprawling—in a big sense, it’s a tale about war and invasion, of bad men trying to keep the peace and carve out their own little fiefdoms. In the small sense, the story is about revenge. Both Lord Arnulf and Harlin have suffered some serious wrongs and some colossal injustices, and they will do terrible, terrible things to settle the score. The writing itself is also great—a few typos here and there, but nothing that detracts from the story—the prose vivid without being purple. The guy definitely knows how to spin a good yarn. If you enjoy dark, big, sprawling fantasy with sort of unlikeable characters who are nevertheless fleshed out, you’ll dig this book.
The Rating: Five stars. I don’t read as much epic fantasy as I used to, but this kind of book is right up my alley: dark, brooding, great world building, lots of blood and guts, without getting bogged down by a bunch or romance. Buy it here: The Shadow of the High King