I saw this one miss out from being a semifinalist this year, but the description caught my attention so I decided to give it a go. THE HIVE’S REVIEW HERE
There’s something inherently interesting to me to try and tell a story from the perspective of a being that’s not human. This book first attracted me since the POV is of an orc healer – I thought that sounded like it had potential to buck conventions and have a more peaceful and “civilized” orc race rather than depicting them as marauding murderers? The answer is yes and no. Yes, he’s definitely ‘soft’ for an orc, but he still has the capability to go ‘berserk’, harkening back to familiar tropes.
I found Xel and easy character to root for since he’s a loyal friend, boundaries on how far he’s willing to go with violence, and struggling with his own identity making him an easy character to relate to at points. You know from the start that he’s both a capable fighter and someone who shows mercy rather than slaughter first ask questions later. He’s dedicated himself to a cause to help a church despite the fact he doesn’t belong to it and isn’t a priest. He owns a tavern and has a group of colleagues that think of themselves as family called the Blackwind Company.
I find I’m less and less tolerant of characters taunting/talking their way through a fight scene as time goes on. There was a bit of that sprinkled throughout the book and I can’t help but be a little turned off by it. The dialogue outside the fight scenes, however, I felt flowed well and sounded natural in most scenes. The city had depth and character, and the descriptions of it as Xel is making his way through brought it to life and made it easy to visualize. That’s saying a lot as someone who really struggles in that department. I can produce a mental picture based solely on visual descriptions, but it takes effort. When an author uses other sensory writing along with visual descriptions it makes it considerably easier for me to sink into the atmosphere.
I liked the world-building in this, it felt very old school but also had enough of its own identity to set it apart from other series that use classic fantasy settings and races. I liked getting to know the details of the world, like how many orc tribes there were, their differences in culture and geographical ranges… but I wish it would have come later in the book once I got myself fully sunk into the storyline and characters. The magic is very free form and nature-based since Xel comes from an earthy-type clan called the Gnarled Roots. Xel can deal damage as well as he can heal, and can produce truly horrific poisons that cause you to writhe for days or weeks before you die. There was another habit of the authors to put in world-building in the middle of a scene, sometimes even an action scene, and it drew me away from the present for long enough that when it got back to the scene I had a hard time getting back into the swing of things. The world-building was presented via exposition a few too many times for my taste, but at least what was being given to me was interesting and engaging.
Overall this was a solid read and I’d say if you think this sounds like your kind of book, pick it up. With just a bit of scene tightening and some edits, this could go from good to great and earn 5 stars. This is definitely an author that’s caught my attention and I’ll continue to read any other books he releases.
TLDR: For people who like nonhuman characters, looking for asexual characters, a merc group that’s like a family, classic old school fantasy races mixed with world-original races. Interesting magic system, three-dimensional world-building.
- Plot: 11/15
- Characters: 12.5/15
- World-Building: 13/15
- Writing: 10/15
- Pacing: 11/15
- Originality: 11/15
- Personal Enjoyment: 7/10
Final Score: 75.5/100 or 3.7/5 on GR