It's time to play catch-up this week on my reading for Mark Lawrence's Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off. I actually read 3 of the finalists over the holidays, but with so much else going on at the office and at home, I'm just finding time to draft the reviews now. Saving the best for last . . .
While I still have two more finalists to read, I can honestly say that What Remains of Heroes is my favorite book so far. David Benem has crafted a very dark sort of fantasy here - one that is violent and sometimes even vulgar - but one in which all of the pieces are polished to a shine, dazzling the reader from start to finish.
We have several key characters here, all of whom are flawed or twisted takes on a trope. Lannick is the old soldier, once a celebrated captain in the royal army, who has been reduced drunken wastefulness by the death of his family. Karnag is the scoundrel, a thief and an assassin who is slowly going mad as a result of his last job, and who is slowly (and surprisingly) pushed out of the narrative by his partner. Bale is cowardly but good-hearted scholar, a monk who has discovered a conspiracy within the royal palace, and who is sent to investigate the very same murder that is driving Karnag mad.
I won't spoil precisely how or why they betray the tropes, but I like what Benem did with each of them. For example, while Lannick does come to once again demonstrate the skills that made him such a celebrated captain, it's painfully clear that he's too broken to ever be a leader of men again. I kept waiting for some cheesy moment to break him, to make him realize his greater responsibility, but it never happens . . . and I liked that.
At first, I wasn't sure about the villains or their plot. After all, the idea of evil necromancers trying to resurrect their dark god has certainly be done before. Again, however, Benem plays against the tropes and makes them legitimately evil, fearsome antagonists. The moment I saw them pit Lannick against monsters who have stole the faces of his dead family, I knew I was going to like where this is headed. There's such a great bit of mythology here, and it's as deep as it is creepy. It's is a story with strong characters and realistic dialogue to go along with that mythology, and moments of humor (often dark) to balance out all the grief, the madness, and the monstrosities.
Yes, What Remains of Heroes initially seems like a trope-laden a tale of vengeance, complete with a quest and the age-old task of saving the world, but Benem proves that an author can be aware of those tropes without blindly embracing them. Definitely a recommended read, and one that's going to be hard for my last two finalists to beat.
Kindle Edition, 486 pages
Published April 17th 2015