Hey folks, hope you’re all well. 🙂
I’m back with a belated review of Gail‘s Scourge – one of the most enjoyable and different Fantasy’s I’ve read in years.
The city-state of Ravenwood is wealthy, powerful, and corrupt. Merchant Princes and Guild Masters wager fortunes to outmaneuver League rivals for the king’s favor and advantageous trading terms. Lord Mayor Ellor Machison wields assassins, blood witches, and forbidden magic to assure that his powerful patrons get what they want, no matter the cost.
Corran, Rigan, and Kell Valmonde are Guild Undertakers, left to run their family’s business when guards murdered their father and monsters killed their mother. Their grave magic enables them to help souls pass to the After and banish vengeful spirits. Rigan’s magic is unusually strong and enables him to hear the confessions of the dead, the secrets that would otherwise be taken to the grave.
When the toll exacted by monsters and brutal guards hits close to home and ghosts expose the hidden sins of powerful men, Corran, Rigan and Kell become targets in a deadly game and face a choice: obey the Guild, or fight back and risk everything.
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!
You can order Scourge as an eBook or paperback (or both!), and also read an extract from the novel, at this link.
Until next time,