This is set in the same world as The Ties that Bind series, as well as the Best Laid Plans duology, I’ve only read the first book in both of those series, but I was able to enjoy this book all the same since this is designed to be a stand-alone novel.
There are two main characters, Rose and The Black Thorn and they’re actually married, but this isn’t a romance novel by any means.
Rose is the mastermind behind a new uprising in The Wilds, the Blooded Families have been ruling The Wilds for a long time and it’s lead to suffering on a massive scale. The Wilds almost feel like The Wild West from the America’s, but there are enough differences that it doesn’t really qualify as a Western. The Wilds are the frontier, it’s the furthest north anyone’s been settling and it’s a rough life. There are many abandoned villages and towns that have been left to rot since people have been taxed into poverty, forcing them to move on and leave their homes behind. The Blooded, of course, are the ones that instituted these tax hikes and don’t care in the least who is left to starve to death – which is why there’s a growing force to get rid of them.
Rose has managed to gather a small army together and has been hacking and slashing her way through The Wilds unseating one Blooded Family after another. She does offer a peace treaty with Niles, the last leader of the Blooded Families, but he’s a rude sort of fellow who called her a whore and dared her to try. So, she tries. She and her husband Betrim, aka The Black Thorn aka The Guardian of the Wilds have set up a siege outside of Crucible, the last standing fortress of the Blooded Families. They are pitching tents, digging ditches, and getting ready for the long haul. The Crucible has been considered to be impenetrable, and The Black Thorn knows most of all how difficult this siege will be because at one point he was imprisoned behind those walls, and was of a mind that only the daft and mad would take on a fortress of that size and magnitude. But, there he is, some years later trying exactly what he thought was insane just a few years ago.
There’s a secondary problem however, the undead are on the rise and no one knows why. Blood runes started surfacing across the Five Kingdoms several years ago, and with them came the undead – also known as Shamblers. The Shamblers, like their namesake suggests, shuffle along mindlessly until they find a target and then go charge after them in a blind homicidal rage. They are stupid but also dangerous in numbers, as The Black Thorn finds out with his regiment. You don’t turn if you get bitten, it’s not a disease but rather Necromancy that brings back the undead. You do however have to behead them to get them to stop, thrusting a spear into them isn’t going to do you much good.
I liked Betrim/Black Thorn more than Rose, and I think it’s because he was less full of himself. When asked about tactical advice he admits he’s just a soldier who does best when swinging an axe, and that he isn’t knowledgeable when it comes to wartime strategy. He knows that he’s limited based on his nonexistent education as well, he doesn’t know how to read, and his grasp on counting and numbers is equivalent to a kindergartner. He isn’t bloodthirsty, he just does what needs doing even though it turns his stomach. He really does not like killing kids, but he will if he has to. He inspires loyalty and awe, but he doesn’t let it go to his head. He’s a grey character for sure, but he settled better with me than Rose.
Rose is his opposite, she wants power and is determined to see herself crowned as Queen of The Wilds. She wants ALL of the Blooded Family members dead, she’s incensed that Niles spat back her offer of peace and wants to carry out her threat of deposing him at all costs. She can make unreasonable demands of her followers and subordinates, telling her husband that she wants the Crucible to fall as soon as possible, preferably before her baby is born (which is very soon). She’s a forceful woman who doesn’t make requests but rather makes demands. She also puts up with a lot of shit, women here aren’t treated well, and being called a whore is the least of her problems.
The world building, like in many other Rob J Hayes books is very well done, there are no long info dumps in the narrative or in the dialogue, everything is drip fed organically over time. I liked the hints at other cultures, Black Thorn has a member of his regiment who was once Haarani, and their culture states that if you are sworn to protect someone in life, and fail, you are honor bound to kill yourself and serve the person you failed in death. He purposefully let his charge, Swift, die because he felt he was unworthy of protection – so he also refused to kill himself, and now his tribe is hunting him down and he’s forced to kill them one after another.
The pacing and writing was also well done, like in other Rob J Hayes novels it’s fast paced and doesn’t let up much, there’s always something going on. The writing was clean and to the point, and the dialogue felt real and unforced.
- Darker stories
- Multi POV
- Grey Characters
- Not for people who don’t like cursing. 151 fucks given in this book!
- Plot: 12/15
- Characters: 12/15
- World Building: 13/15
- Writing: 13/15
- Pacing: 13/15
- Originality: 11/15
- Personal Enjoyment: 8.25/10
Final Score: 82/100 – solid 4.1 stars, recommended