Did I like The Grim Company, Scull’s epic fantasy debut from last year? Of course I did. Hardly over hyped it was the type of book that felt designed to hit all the right notes of a popular series. Yet despite its familiarity almost by the numbers feel (*cough* First Law *cough) I never felt that it was derivative of the works it could be compared to. It took a well-worn feel and gave it a life of its own. I immediately was ready for Sword of the North to come out so I could continue the adventure.
Sword of the North is a very different animal than its predecessor despite keeping the same general feel. The Grim Company had its feet firmly planted in the Grimdark thing (call it a genre, sub-genre or whatever have you). It started with a man using magic to drop half an ocean onto a rival’s city after all. From there it followed a familiar path of people trying hard and ultimately failing in their futile efforts; that things were only going to get worse was perfectly clear.
I felt there was actually a bit of hope, a bit less chance of tragedy, hell a little bit of happiness hidden in a few pages. Don’t get me wrong, this book still walks on the darker side of fantasy complete with high body counts, betrayals by people you actually like and nasty people getting big wins. But unlike ‘grimdark’ books I found that characters I have liked through two books have for the most part stayed likable. I feel that there are people who actually care in this world, which of course takes out some of the caricature feel common in dark fantasy. What’s more, some characters actually show some will to improve themselves. What a concept! We are halfway to a comedy (by classical definition).
We continue to follow characters met in the first book; Brodar Kayne as he heads North to check on a rumor about his family along with the grim man who goes by Wolf. Cole, who should be a celebrated hero for his deeds in book one, instead wakes up in a penal colony. Sasha, following her sister into a confrontation with The White Lady (would be savior from The Grim Company). And the half-mage; a man digging into secrets that could prove important at a later date (and pissing off important people while doing so). The land is learning that anyone powerful to dispose of a despot should probably be looked into, war is coming to the north (with the help of some barely under control demons) and lots of dying people is pretty much inevitable.
I enjoyed each of these character’s paths, save one. The story’s expanded scope, and an overall villain much more interesting that that who ruled the first book, was well woven and entertaining. Minor anachronisms are forgiven (and Pulp Fiction homages are noted but ultimately ignored) for sake of a good read. But the grizzled barbarian who helped carry the first book, one Brodar Kayne, was given the short end of the story this time around. It felt like the author knew what to do with each piece of his puzzle save this one. So on a travel quest he goes! Picking up as large of a quest party as possible along the way, one piece at a time, just to keep the story going I suppose. It led to an entire POV that I wanted to skip each time it came up, never a good thing and for this reader slowed the story down greatly.
This is a shame because in a lot of ways I think Scull is giving us a more creative and in depth story this time around in every other aspect. As inevitable as ‘same as the old boss’ style mechanics may be it always breaks the heart when it turns out to be true. And the new bosses minions are one of those little unique touches that always makes me smile when I read fantasy. I can safely say that for the most part this book clicked all around for me. It just falls into that common trap of having too many pages that don’t add anything to the story.
Copy for review provided by publisher.