Overkill is the latest of the Gorias La Gaul stories from Steven Shrewsbury, a heroic fantasy franchise that brings back memories of Robert E. Howard's original Conan tales. Fear not if this is your first exposure to La Gaul, for his stories are able to be read as standalone novels.
In fact, this was my first exposure to the character, and I quite enjoyed it.
Gorias is a man of few words, but those he offers are chosen well. He's a direct, sarcastic, often vulgar warrior who has seen and heard it all. More than 700 years old, he still finds the world amusing, and the women it it arousing. This is no grumpy old man, dragged out of retirement, to save the world. No, this is a lustful, bloodthirsty man in the prime of life . . . dragged out of a brothel to save the world.
In a world where YA fiction seems to be overtaking the shelves, this is a deliberate throwback to the kind of pulp fantasy that long-time adult readers of fantasy can sit back and enjoy. Shrewsbury offers up a hearty mix of politics and religion, each with their own complexities, and a refreshing dose of old-fashioned "who the hell cares how it works!" magic. If there's one thing I've begun to find rather tiresome about fantasy novels over the past few years is the tendency to have to explain how magic works and somehow justify it to the reader. It's fantasy. It's not real. It's magic. Thank you, Steven, for letting us take it for granted and get on with it.
It should also be said - assuming the cover didn't give it away - that this is a book about dragons. Again, Shrewsbury bucks the historical realism trend and gives us our dragons, as mighty, ferocious, and dangerous as we want to remember them. I loved the way he worked them into the plot, and the way in which their legends have come to have very real implications, tied very much to that of La Gaul.
The story here isn't overly deep, but it's more than sufficient to carry the novel, especially one so action packed from cover-to-cover. There are plenty of twists and turns, some of them rather clever and others completely unexpected, and just enough humour (with a dash of romance) to alleviate the tension. Similarly, the characters are only as deep as they need be to carry the story, but they live and breathe upon the page - and that, more than any reams of useless lineages and life stories, is what makes them compelling.
An altogether satisfying read, and one worth looking into.