The first novel in The Grim Company was a singular example of the traditional fantasy novel for the 21st century. I stand by my comment of it being one of best fantasy novels of 2013. Sword of the North is the direct sequel to this debut and follows the spectacular events at the end of the first book.
It begins however 36 years before, with some suitably grim back-story which describes the path of Brodar Kayne and how he eventually becomes the swordsman he is and friend to the legendary "Wolf" that is Jerek. The book alternates between the past and present — the past skipping forward and providing the defining moments of Kaynes past life while the present shows our heroes following their own paths.
Davarus Cole still plays a part in the story, as does Sasha, who seems to spend most of her time either drugged up or dealing with her "difficult" sister (often both at the same time). The most unlikely of these unlikely heroes "Eremul the Halfmage" - the wheelchair bound wizard, continues to accidentally amaze and astound most who meet him, himself included. If none of these names ring a bell then I'd recommend reading The Grim Company first, you'll enjoy Sword of the North a great deal more — even so those uninitiated in the world Scull has created should still enjoy this book.
As with The Grim Company, the writing is incredible, its entirely convincing with a suitably dry, dark humour and excellent use of tension. Luke Scull is a natural Story-teller. The action scenes are suitably fast and dynamic and the over-arching story engaging (if a little predictable at times). Sword of the North is firmly rooted in what is increasingly being referred to as "grimdark" — a grim and gritty style to the prose and a plot that has less joy and happiness than a conservative's convention. It works well given the whole theme of omnipotent gods and warring wizards, not to mention demons and other nasties. The world is after all going through the "Age of Ruin", if you are however looking for shiny happy then look elsewhere.
Many novels feature flawed protagonists, it helps to ground them, make them seem more human, and allows the reader to form a relationship. But Scull elevates the flawed hero to an art-form.
We've a crippled "halfmage" who is often seems as weak in magic as he does physically and who seems to have seriously pissed-off fate, given the unfortunate events that befall him. Then we've got the drug-addled thief who — in her brief lucid moments — has to wrestle with her psychotic sister. There is the archetypal gruff, sword-wielding hero who has lived way past his better days and has a past that haunts his remaining time. Lastly we have a young, magic weapon wielding narcissistic hero — as vain as he is foolish.
Set them against the power of aforementioned demons, wizards, gods and large armies of savage people then what chance do the bad guys have!
Sword of the North is everything I'd hoped it would be, a deserving sequel to one of the finest fantasy novels of recent times — a rich and rewarding read told by a true story-teller.
Written on 13th April 2015 by Ant.
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