This is part of my review request list! I am really making a concerted effort to get through this list before it gets any more unwieldy.
The book starts with the possible death of the main character, Volchak. He’s more or less at peace with the fact he’s about to die, and who killed him. He’s led a violent life and it makes sense that he meets a violent end. Then chapter one starts the reader with a long ‘flash back’ of events that led Volchak to where he was in the prologue — dying.
So Volchak is the leader of a group called the Breachmen, which is a classification of infantryman in the army. Getting assigned to the Breachmean is more or less a death sentence, and it’s usually used a punishment for criminals or those who get on the wrong side of the King. It’s reminiscent of Kaladin and the bridge crew in the Stormlight Archives series, I got very similar vibes. The breachmen and the bridge crew also had similar wartime technology in that they used spears, pikes, and axes, not guns and cannons. Volchak, like most soldiers stuck in the lower ranks, was drafted straight off his farm as a young kid. If given a choice would not be fighting anymore, he’s not a warrior that loves his craft, he just does it to get through to the next day. Once drafted you spend 25 years in the military, which is a long fucking time, most don’t go home. When the army comes around looking for recruits you either go with them or get killed on the spot. It’s pretty brutal. Anyway, Volchak has managed to stay alive all these years as a Breachman and it’s his job to go out and recruit more folks. He’s actually not a bad person, I really really liked him by the time the story was over. He bends the rules as much as possible to be as merciful as possible while also not getting called out and removed from his position of power where he can do some good. It’s a fine line to walk.
In his crew he’s got a few steady people who are smart and skilled enough to make it out of the battles each time along with him. Of the people that live, there’s Harkner and Flea, lol that’s it. Flea is a small girl who’s usually too fast and too cunning to get hit, while Harker is more or less a warrior/tank type. He just keeps swinging his hammer until he’s the last one left. He’s got an easy attitude and he’s very easy to enjoy. He’s got a sweet relationship with Flea, keeping her safe as best he can.
The Breachmen are currently fighting an insurrection run by a rogue Duke who is challenging the King. The Duke is losing. But, the Duke has also sent a mercenary to take out high ranking officials and warriors to try and turn the tides in his favor. So, in comes Kaelith’s POV. He’s been sent on a mission to take out Valchak and others at the top of the military food chain in the King’s army. I liked Kaelith, he’s got a decent head on his shoulders, an easy going personality, and more morals than you’d think from a mercenary. I find it makes for excellent tension when two sides of a war are presented sympathetically and you’re not sure who you want to win, because you want both of them to come out okay.
Okay, and there’s one more POV, and this one didn’t work for me at all. Stirc is a “physician” and these “doctors” are not like our doctors. They are not there to help you. They are only there to learn about what makes bodies tick and then discard the body when they’re done with it. If you run from your duties in the army you end up the red tents of the hermatic order getting vivisected. It’s so disturbing, and Stirc is right in the middle of it. He just does not give a single shit about his subjects. It’s actually not allowed in the hermetic order (the crazy physicians guild) to refer to people by their names, only as “subject”. It’s almost too much to think that this kind of thing would exist and that people would be able to routinely torture other people to death like this as Order openly accepted by society, but I suppose similar things have happened in the past, but maybe just not as out in the open — eg nazis. I suppose if you left a nazi regime to its thing for long enough maybe the experiments would have been publicly accepted. Horrifying to think about. Anyway, so Stirc gets sent on a mission with the Valchak crew to go deliver a prisoner, Keilith, once he was discovered. This all happens fairly early on so it’s not really a spoiler, the main story is these guys going on a quest to go deliver the prisoner.
Goodness me there are a TON of people in this book, a lot of moving parts, it’s a complicated story so this is not for light reading lolol. This is very military based with a lot of strategy talk, and a metric ass ton of battles. I mean there are so many axes in skulls and swords rammed through gullets and what have you. If you don’t like battle scenes this book is not for you, lol.
The world building honestly was kind of light? Since this was a low fantasy there wasn’t a magic system to incorporate, and there weren’t a ton of fantasy races with varying cultures to explain, either. The Gods/religion really didn’t factor in anywhere that clearly stands out to me. I know there was a King and there are some Dukes, but the world was described as fairly small. The whole kingdom was comprised of two large cities and seven villages — I think that’s a direct quote. Which leads to one of my bigger issues — how are you losing 28/30 breachmen in certain battles and able to fill your ranks again with just two cities and seven villages of people? You’re going to run out of people, no?
By the end things wrapped up really neat and clean and very quick. Certain things I really liked and others I thought felt forced and rushed. Overall though, I felt really compelled to get through to the end because I knew some of the cast was going to die, and I wanted to see who made it to the end and what their conclusions were. This does read as a single serve book, most if not all of the plot points were addressed and everyone’s arc was completed, it definitely doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. I think it’s open enough to have another adventure here, but the story being told was finished, so if you’re looking for stand alones, or stand alone series this could be for you.
Overall, I think this is a book for people who love war stories, battles, soldiers, and unlikely companions.
- Plot: 11/15
- Characters: 12/15
- World Building: 10/15
- Writing: 11/15
- Pacing: 11.15
- Originality: 11/15
- Enjoyment: 7/10
Final score: 73/100