4 out of 4 stars
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First Law series meets The Malazan Book of the Fallen series in this stellar tale! I have read & loved both series, and I found this book just as addictive. "Steel, Blood & Fire" is the first book in the Immortal Treachery series, and it is one of those books that are very difficult to put down after you've started. I don't have words adequate enough to express how much I enjoyed this book. This isn't particularly new to the genre, but it's definitely a cut above a lot of other fantasy books.
The book has a fair amount of the aforementioned blood and swordplay, but it is much more than that. With a story told from multiple points of view, an eloquent writing, a well-constructed world, larger than life protagonists, and an enthralling narrative, we have here a great new entry into the "epic fantasy" ranks. This book is quite a bit different from your standard fantasy fare. Instead of good against evil, the struggle is less evil versus more evil, with the heroes themselves of questionable morality. In fact, the book has everything I like about epic fantasy: complex characters that are mostly shades of gray, an epic world-ending threat looming on the horizon, kingdom gearing up for war, intrigue, and even a bit of romance between unlikely pair. In addition it deals with themes of grand struggle against supernatural evil force, friendship, loyalty, honor, depravity, and empathy.
The book is set in a medieval world, and powerful shapers (wizards), warriors, magic swords, and fey creatures grace its pages. The story opens with a bang and then builds up to an explosive climax. The book focuses on a large number of characters that drive the plot. However, the characters are fairly memorable and easy to differentiate, due to their unique voices and their meticulous drawing. Some of the main protagonists are: Tarmun Vykers aka "the Reaper" – an infamous legendary warrior; Arune – a spectral sorceress in need of a body; Anders aka The End of all Things - a bloodthirsty mage and the villain of the piece; Aoife – Anders' sister; Long aka Long Pete; D'kem, a washed up wizard; Mardine – a giantess, to name a few.
There are four main plot lines which start out separately and then overlap in interesting and surprising ways. Each chapter switches perspective to follow around different story. First we meet Tarmun Vykers, a legendary warrior who is universally feared. He is not your typical hero either, and can be considered as an Anti-Hero. Before the End made his entrance, Vykers was the terror of the piece. Now he is seen as the lesser of two evils. The same enemy which has disfigured him at the beginning of the story is now asking for his help against the dark machinations of an evil even bigger than him. Imagine that! Next we meet The End of all Things itself, a supernatural evil entity who is bent on annihilating all life literally. Another plot line follows Aoife's quest of vengeance. The last plot line, but not the least, follows Long and his motley crew's quest for riches and fortune. There are many adventures and mishaps along the way, and while most plotlines come to a tidy end at the close of this novel, others have been given a solid foundation to continue on into the next book in the series.
The author rises above the clichés to create a story that is more original and less predictable than it should be. Characters are fantastic, from the honorable to the wicked. As for favorite characters, Vykers is by far one of them. Speaking of favorite characters, the author doesn't pull his punches and doesn't hesitate to kill beloved characters. The cast of characters is very large, yet somehow easy to keep track of. There are a couple of strong female leads, but sadly one of them quickly became a womb for rent half way through the story. Toward the end though, she redeemed herself. My only complaint (though it's fairly minor) is the frequent use of the F-word in the story, which just doesn't seem to fit the world. Nonetheless, this novel was everything that I could wish for and more in an epic fantasy.
I loved the story, so I rate it 4 out of 4 stars. Lovers of dark fantasy novels would be well advised to immerse themselves in this story! If you love flawed characters and you don't mind a bit of violent action, then this is totally for you. However, the book is not appropriate for young adult readers due to its dark and somewhat gory content. It's a fat book (around 1000 pages on my kindle) and a long story, but it flies by. Oh, does it fly! As you can tell from this glowing review, I would whole-heartedly recommend it!
Steel, Blood & Fire
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